Barca to go back to Plan A. Alas, that means Messi and Ney­mar

The Herald - Herald Sport - - CHAMPIONS LEAGUE - NEIL CAMERON

LUIS EN­RIQUE, the Barcelona man­ager, will bring back his su­per­stars against Celtic af­ter con­tro­ver­sially rest­ing them at the week­end.

Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and An­dres Ini­esta all came off the sub­sti­tutes’ bench in the 2-1 home de­feat to Alaves, first-choice left-back Jordi Alba was un­used, while Ger­ard Pique was rested from the squad al­to­gether.

All five should start against Bren­dan Rodgers’s men who ar­rive in Spain this morn­ing know­ing the pres­sure is to some ex­tent off them given who they are play­ing, where they are play­ing and with the in­sur­ance of a 5-1 win over Rangers be­hind them.

Messi has strug­gled with his ham­string and missed a good chance to equalise at the week­end; how­ever, he will be brought back into the team to en­sure the Cata­lans do not go two matches with­out a win, which in their world would be seen as a gen­uine cri­sis.

Ex­plain­ing his changes for the Alaves match, En­rique said: “We tried to in­clude those who were fresher, most of the ro­ta­tions were due to the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing us. The play­ers tried and gave it their best.

“It was not a good night for us from the be­gin­ning. We lacked flu­ency and pre­ci­sion and we were frag­ile in de­fence. Our mis­take led to the sec­ond goal. It’s not a warn­ing for us. We are al­ways the favourites but we ap­pre­ci­ate how dif­fi­cult it is to win.

“Did we make too many changes? We have not had an es­tab­lished team this sea­son. I take re­spon­si­bil­ity. Peo­ple al­ways talk about the coach but we are all in it to­gether. It’s not just the 11 play­ers. They all tried hard but it’s a game that we can learn a lot from.”

The chat around Barcelona is that En­rique is on bor­rowed time, de­spite win­ning the league and cup dou­ble last sea­son which came on the back of his first cam­paign as man­ager when his side picked up a his­toric tre­ble which in­cluded the Cham­pi­ons League.

“Ill-ad­vised” is how lead­ing Span­ish sports news­pa­per Marca de­scribed the de­ci­sion to make seven changes, none of which seemed to work. In­deed Alaves de­served their win and took both goals re­ally well.

In the af­ter­math of Satur­day’s de­feat, there was a lot of neg­a­tiv­ity among the Barcelona press pack, and cer­tainly the sup­port­ers, who have not been con­vinced by some of the new play­ers, es­pe­cially striker Paco Al­cacer, a £25m sum­mer sign­ing from Va­len­cia, who hardly got a kick be­fore he was taken off at the week­end.

Jordi Mestre, the Barcelona vice-pres­i­dent, made the point af­ter Satur­day’s match that Ney­mar, who played the full 90 min­utes and showed some flashes of what he is ca­pa­ble of, needed some help from his team-mates.

“Ney­mar is fine and in form,” he said. “Yet Ney­mar alone can­not win the match. [The ro­ta­tions] were those which the coach­ing staff con­sid­ered ne­c­es­sary with re­gards to in­juries and the state in which play­ers came into the match. They put out the team they con­sid­ered the best.”

The no­tion that Barcelona are in trou­ble is ridicu­lous; how­ever, it is not fan­ci­ful to sug­gest that ques­tions are be­ing asked about the strength of their squad. The blame for them not de­fend­ing their Cham­pi­ons League ti­tle last sea­son was laid at the door of the dif­fer­ence in qual­ity be­tween the start­ing XI, which hardly changed, and those who were asked to come in when the team was tin­kered with.

Go­ing by Satur­day’s per­for­mance, the gulf be­tween the sup­port­ing cast to the world’s best is con­sid­er­able.

“Look­ing good in a side that’s dom­i­nat­ing other teams is one thing, shin­ing bright when your backs are against the wall an­other,” said Marca. “Play­ers must put in a shift no mat­ter the per­ceived stan­dard of the op­po­nent be­cause if and when they don’t the retri­bu­tion is swift, as we saw on Satur­day.

“Luis En­rique, too, would do well to give re­sults and team se­lec­tion against a sim­i­lar type of op­po­nent more than cur­sory ac­knowl­edge­ment. Large-scale ro­ta­tions for ro­ta­tions sake has never re­ally worked for the Cata­lans and it didn’t once again. Les­son learned hope­fully.”

In many ways Alaves showed Rodgers how his team should play to­mor­row. They were well or­gan­ised, worked hard, got men be­hind the ball to stop Barcelona play­ing through the mid­dle of them and broke on the counter-at­tack with pace and pre­ci­sion.

Celtic will hope, and it’s a big hope, that Barcelona even with their most fa­mous play­ers back will put in an­other be­low-par per­for­mance.

En­rique ad­mit­ted: “We were not pre­cise in what we did, but this al­lows us to value what we have done pre­vi­ously. To win is al­ways dif­fi­cult. We have al­ways been con­scious of how tough it is to win, but this helps us to un­der­stand how dif­fi­cult it is.

“Alaves were very se­ri­ous, very well or­gan­ised and prac­ti­cally with just three chances scored two goals. They did things very well. Also, they played with a sys­tem they had not used be­fore, a very deep 5-4-1.”

First-choice goal­keeper Marc An­dre Ter Ste­gen has will miss the next few weeks with a ham­string in­jury and there­fore new sign­ing from Ajax, Jasper Cil­lis­sen, who made his de­but against Alaves, will make his Cham­pi­ons League bow for Barcelona to­mor­row.

The Dutch in­ter­na­tional said: “I am ready to play against Celtic. I came to Barcelona to help the team and if I am able to do that on Tues­day it would be great. I feel com­fort­able here, I feel ready to play for this big club and help them win more tro­phies.

“Some peo­ple ques­tioned why I came here [to sit on the bench] but I al­ways want to play and the best games are in the Cham­pi­ons League. We will try to im­prove for Tues­day against Celtic.”

Pic­ture: Getty Im­ages

STEP THIS WAY, CELTIC: Lionel Messi and Ney­mar are ex­pected to start against Bren­dan Rodgers’s side in Camp Nou to­mor­row night af­ter they were rested against Alaves.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.