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fitba special edition

Just can’t get enough


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Can Lennon inspire his bhoys for a second year in a row?


Time for Celtic to step to the fore and inspire By Andy Muirhead

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he group of death or the group of champions, whatever way Group H is billed it is certainly not going to be boring. In fact, Celtic drawing three European giants in the guise of AC Milan, Ajax and Barcelona are the opponents that inspire players to come to Celtic Park and it inspires the next generation of youngsters coming through the ranks at Celtic. Last season was one of Celtic’s greatest European escapades ever, given how poor they performed domestically and the players at their disposal compared to those of Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow. It was a surprise to many - despite the rhetoric coming out from the Celtic family - that Neil Lennon’s men qualified for the knock out stages of the Champions League. The campaign came to a crashing halt against Italian giants Juventus, who beat Celtic 3-0 at Parkhead and completed the victory with a 2-0 win in Turin. Despite the claims that playing Efe Ambrose so soon after his return from the African Cup of Nations, Juventus had too much for Celtic - who had a number of players dragging their heels for the second half of the season. Those being the now departed Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper. It was a campaign to be proud of for everyone involved with Celtic and Scottish football would take some pride in their champions beating the odds and making critics eat their words. With the domestic title in the bag for the second year in a row, Celtic had to battle their way through three Champions League qualifiers and first up were Northern Irish side Cliftonville. All the pre-match talk was of Celtic slipping up, the media in Scotland seemed to be willing such a calamity - I guess it would have boosted their sales if Lennon’s men had fell foul of their Northern Irish brothers. But despite all the talk, Celtic saw out the match in Belfast defeating Cliftonville 3-0 thanks to goals from Mikael Lustig, Georgios Samaras and James Forrest. The second leg was a mere formality and Celtic 3


dominated proceedings once more winning 2-0 at Celtic Park. Next up for Celtic were the Swedish champions Elfsborg, an all too different opponent to that of Cliftonville. The Swedes were struggling domestically, but yet again Celtic were seen as a side that could choke and stumble against them. Again Celtic secured victory at Parkhead, it wasn’t a pretty win but a win all the same as a solitary Kris Commons goal sealed a first leg victory. The second leg was a non-entity in all reality, the game ended 0-0 and Celtic progressed. Both early qualifiers proved one thing, Celtic needed fresh blood, the Elfsborg game in particular, proved that Lennon’s side were relying too much on Kris Commons for their creative edge. Celtic brought in Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk, who started alongside another new recruit Steven Mouyokolo, against Shakhtar Karagandy of Kazakhstan. It was a horror draw for Celtic - not because of the quality that Shakhtar had - but because of the travel and whether that had an impact on the players or the slaughtering of a sheep by the Kazakhs as part of their pre-match ritual, Celtic were beaten 2-0 - in my opinion it was due to their own defensive failings once again. The media had their headlines, it was a result compared to that of the defeat against Artmedia Bratislava all those years ago. The blue half of Glasgow savoured the defeat before being silenced as they forgot their lack of European action. Although it did not stop a few trolls on the net, ahead of the second leg, to cheer on Karagandy and spouting rubbish about them bathing in sheep’s blood as a pre-match ritual in support of the Kazakh side. The second leg showed exactly what Celtic could do to their opponents at Celtic Park, as they dominated the game as deservedly won the game 3-0 to send Celtic through to the group stage of the Champions League for a second year in a row. But it was a late goal from James Forrest that sealed the victory, to add to goals from Commons and Samaras. However, despite the qualification for the group stages of the Champions League, Celtic needed to strengthen and whether the board had held firm until qualification was secured or not - they dipped into the transfer market to sign Derk Boerrigter from Ajax, Nir Biton from MS Ashdod and Teemu Puki from Schalke. Finally giving the fans something else to celebrate. The draw saw Celtic enter Group H alongside the cream of European football royalty, Barcelona, Ajax and AC Milan. Certainly no strangers to Celtic and a group that as seen as not only the group of death, but also the group of champions. Between all four sides, they have won a total of 16 European Cup/ Champions League titles between them. Ajax four times, Barcelona 4


four times, AC Milan seven times and Celtic just the once. Those Celtic youngsters who will take part in the UEFA Youth Cup against the same teams as the Celtic first team, should look on and be inspired. While, no one expects Celtic to take anything from any of the teams, the likes of Kaka, Mario Balottelli, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Iniesta, Xavi and co. will face off against Lennon’s side. These are the games that you dreamed of playing in, when you were a kid, even big kids would dream of playing our part and scoring the winning goal against Barcelona. One kid who can say he did score that winning goal against Barcelona, is no longer at Celtic Park - albeit temporarily. Tony Watt secured his status in Celtic folklore by scoring in the 2-1 win over Barcelona last season, but while he was lauded across Europe - domestically he disappeared after that and is now on loan to Belgium side Lierse SK to find regular first team football. Can the present Celtic team, minus the influence of midfield stalwart Victor Wanyama and hit man Gary Hooper, inspire a new generation of Celtic supporters? Can they secure famous victories over the cream of European football nobility? Celtic revel in their underdog status and while they have nothing to lose they have everything to gain. The blue half of Glasgow may laugh and mock the results that are inflicted upon Celtic, but at least Celtic fans can say they were at the races with the thoroughbreds rather than in with the donkeys. As the clichÊ goes football is a funny old game - Celtic could secure qualification to the knock out stages of the Champions League for a second year in succession, they could also end the campaign with no points on the board. Realistically, Celtic should challenge Ajax for third spot and a place in the Europa League.

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De Boer has brought domestic success back to the nation’s capital


Ajax intent on progressing to the knock out stages By Peter McVitie

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ntent on progressing into the second-round of the Champions League this season, a difficult task awaits Frank de Boer’s Ajax. Drawn in a group consisting of four previous European Cup winners (a first for the competition) alongside Barcelona, Milan and Celtic, the strength and ability of this vibrant and youthful Ajax side will be fully tested in Group H. Ajax may have lost their star players Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld following their moves to Tottenham and Atletico Madrid respectively, but both players have already been replaced by coach Frank de Boer. Lerin Duarte has been brought in from Heracles following the departure of Eriksen, while young defender Mike van der Hoorn was recruited in the summer from Utrecht as the Amsterdam club anticipated the sale of the Belgian. While Duarte is not of the same level as his predecessor, his intelligence, technique and speed make him a player suitable of sporting the iconic red and white of the Amsterdam giants. Van der Hoorn, however, has had some trouble in the early stages of his Ajax career. De Boer doesn’t feel the player is of the required level to step into the first team alongside Niklas Moisander. The 20-year-old is very much one for the future and is still developing, working closely with defensive coach Jaap Stam to improve various aspects of his game. While the former Utrecht player adapts to life with the Eredivisie powerhouse, the void left by Alderweireld’s departure has been filled by Stefano Denswil, a product of Ajax’s famous youth system. The 20-year-old centre-back has played in the last two matches for Ajax sine Alderweireld left, thoroughly impressing in both games. He is a very capable, strong and brave young defender, worthy of his place in the starting XI. This is a squad with quality spread all the way through it. When playing at their full capabilities, this team can be of remarkable potency, resembling something of an unstoppable machine. A secure, brave goalkeeper who has rid himself of the reputation as a complete bomb7


scare; a strong and versatile backline; a fluid, skilful and fast midfield; and a front three with great speed and goalscoring ability make up a strong Ajax side. The problem is, however, that the Godenzonen haven’t been playing to the fullest of their abilities so far this season. In fact, this is something they don’t do in the first half of the campaign under coach De Boer. Under the guardianship of the former Netherlands captain, the Amsterdammers have won three consecutive Eredivisie titles, making the former Ajax and Barcelona defender only the third to do so as a coach, alongside Rinus Michels and Louis van Gaal. A large part of these three league victories is down to the way De Boer trains his team. While most teams begin to run out of steam towards the end of the season, Ajax are built to hit their top gear in the second half of the term to steamroll through all of their opponents and claim top spot. Due to this, they seem to stutter their way through the opening half of the campaign, picking up just enough points to stay within touching distance of the league’s leading pack. The early signs of the current season suggest this will be the case once again. An indifferent start consisting of three wins out of six leaves them only two points behind league leaders PEC Zwolle, whom they beat on Saturday. The style has suited them well enough so far domestically, but obviously where it leaves Ajax short is in European competition. While De Boer has brought domestic success back to the nation’s capital (they had gone seven years without winning the league before his appointment) as well as Champions League football (they were absent from the group stages for five years), he hasn’t been able to steer them beyond the first round of the competition. They have come close, however, to remaining in the competition beyond the winter break. In 2010-11 they finished just one point behind second-placed Milan in a group which consisted of the Serie A giants, Real Madrid and Auxerre. The following season, Lyon scored the exact number of goals required to take second place above them in the group in a freak 7-1 win over Dinamo Zagreb in the final matchday. On that same night, the Dutch side had two goals incorrectly ruled out for offside in a defeat to Real Madrid. Then, last season, they were drawn in the toughest group the competition has seen for some time. Four reigning champions in Ajax, Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City were all pitted against each other in a remarkable group. The four points they picked up across the two games against City saw Ajax finish third behind eventual finalists Dortmund and semi-finalists Madrid. The near misses have been very frustrating for Ajax and the talk from the camp following their third consecutive Eredivisie title was about progressing and remaining in the Champions League beyond the group stage this time around. While only the most devoted of Ajax fans will have any sort of belief that they will pick up points against Barcelona, there is reason to believe that they stand a good chance against Milan and Celtic. The Ajax squad is very strong. Vermeer has matured in recent years 8


to become a very good shot stopper for this side. Full-backs Ricardo van Rhijn and Daley Blind are young and somewhat inattentive when it comes to defensive duties. However, both are very talented players who suit the Ajax system which covers for their defensive apathy, giving them the freedom to bomb forward and assist in attacks. Denswil and Moisander make up a central partnership which is in its formative stages of development, but both are very strong, technical players and are good at playing the ball out from the back and kick-starting Ajax’s moves. The midfield three will generally consist of captain Siem de Jong, who has just recovered from a collapsed lung, Lasse Schone and Christian Poulsen, who will sit deep. Duarte and Thulani Serero are also available and will play a part in this campaign. Ajax will always play with a front three (starting formation 4-3-3). Wingers Viktor Fischer and Bojan Krkic (on loan from Barcelona) offer support to star striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson. The Icelandic frontman missed all of Ajax’s Champions League games last season due to injury but he has started this term well with three in six in the Eredivisie. The problem, however, has been that wingers Fischer and Bojan haven’t impressed in the way they were expected to this year. The Spanish winger came with obvious high expectations, but his problem is that he has been used as a winger. He and Van Rhijn are too similar in that they both opt to drift into the centre, which often narrows the play, whereas Ajax’s philosophy is to play with as much width as possible, meaning they often hinder the team. It’s not all negative for Bojan though, he has created a lot of chances for the team and, despite not scoring, he has picked up three assists so far in the league. Fischer enjoyed a fantastic maiden season in the league last year, but in this one he has often gone missing in games and has failed to live up to the hype built around him. It is particularly frustrating for a player who is clearly a talent capable of blossoming into one of Europe’s best. De Boer is completely devoted to the Total Football system which was born in the club in the 1970s and latterly spread throughout Holland, then onto Barcelona and beyond. Because of his devotion to the iconic attacking style, his team will go out in all matches with the intention of dominating possession and dominating the game. Retaining the ball and playing the game in the opponents’ half are the main targets of this team, never dropping deep or resorting to more defensive tactics, even when away from home or faced with stronger opponents. It’s a system which serves them well in the Netherlands, but in European games they are often caught out. Regardless, neither De Boer nor the Ajax fans would have it any other way. To lose with this beautiful style is better than winning without it. If they are to have any chance of pipping Milan to second place, home form against both Max Allegri’s side and that of Neil Lennon will be crucial. Celtic Park is very much a fortress for Neil Lennon’s men on Champions League nights, but the Amsterdam ArenA is generally that 9


for Ajax. They have won three out of three in their home stadium this season and in each of the previous two years they were defeated only once on their own turf in the league. Celtic’s incredible home form in the Champions League doesn’t paint the brightest of pictures for any team in this group. But nor does it leave them without any hope. Having played in the famous De Kuip stadium, the boisterous home of Feyenoord, they are used to a more hostile environment. In the heated clashes in Rotterdam, 100% of the crowd are home fans as away supporters are not allowed to attend, and they create a rather incredible atmosphere inside the cauldron-like arena. When it comes to matches against Celtic and Milan, there’s nothing to suggest Ajax can’t win both matches in the Amsterdam ArenA. A draw at Celtic Park is definitely a feasible result, while gaining a point in the Giuseppe Meazza would be a bonus. In this very tough group, it is difficult to see Ajax achieve their goal of remaining in Europe’s most prestigious club competition beyond the winter break, but it isn’t an impossible task. Perhaps a step behind Allegri’s Milan and one ahead of the Scottish champions, De Boer’s team look most likely to drop into the Europa League once again. Peter McVitie is a freelance football journalist, who writes mostly on the Eredivisie. He writes for @BeNeFoot and is a pundit on @JfGPodcasts. You can also check out his work on Goal and STV.

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Can Celtic escape the group of Champions? By Nathan MacKenzie

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t 5.58pm on August 29th, 2013, Paolo Sousa displayed the name Celtic FC from a piece of folded white paper which placed Scotland’s champions and only representative in this year’s UEFA Champions League in one of the most prestigious groups in European football history alongside no less than three previous European Cup winners. This group containing Barcelona, AC Milan and Ajax was named by many in the media as the ‘Group of Champions’. Immediately after Sousa pulled Celtic from the bowl and displayed the name to the world, a BBC sports presenter tweeted to his 1.8 million subscribers the line: “Bye bye Celtic!” This tweet currently stands at just short of 5,000 retweets with over 1,500 favourites. That tweet by Match of Day presenter and former England striker, Gary Linekar had been seen before. One year earlier, Linekar had tweeted the same line to similar fanfare, however the Walkers man was made to eat his words or should I say crisps when Celtic brushed aside the then ‘group of death’ and progressed for the third time in their history to the last 16. A repeat of that feat would be seen as even more spectacular this year, with Celtic having lost a number of key players throughout the summer transfer window. Wanyama, Hooper, Wilson and Rogne all departed this summer as well as the teenage striker, Tony Watt. who left on loan for Belgian outfit Lierse S.K. until the end of the season. Victor Wanyama was the rock and craftsman in the middle for Celtic last season in Europe. However with the Kenyan now dominating midfields in the English Premiership it is now up to Beram Kayal to fill those big boots and show his true potential. Also missing for Celtic is top goal-scorer Gary Hooper. He might have only scored the four goals in Europe last season, but with a side which is already struggling to score goals domestically and in Europe, this will be a real problem area for Celtic. It is yet to be seen whether Stokes, Pukki 11


or Amido Balde will be able to provide as much firepower upfront as the now Norwich man was able to provide last season. The loss of Rogne and Wilson at the back will also be felt by Celtic, although Virgil Van Dijk seems to be fitting in well, he is yet to be tested against such quality opposition. While Frenchman Steven Mouyokolo looks already set to be out for the rest of the season with a serious achilles injury. So what will Celtic face this year in the UEFA Champions League? Well for starters they face a trip to the famous San Siro on Wednesday night to take on Italian giants AC Milan. Now the Italians have struggled at home in Serie A of late and have lost a number of key players as well. Gone are Kevin-Prince Boateng to Schalke, Flamini to Arsenal and Ambrosini to Fiorentina. In is Italian striker Alessandro Matri from Juventus for 12 million euros and Brazilian playmaker Kaka. Milan have also added a number of cheap or free buys to the squad which has completely altered the side to the one which last competed in the Champions League. Milan as second-seeds will be aiming to make at least the last 16, however this is a young side with little experience of top European football. This could play into Celtic’s hands if they take advantage of this on Tuesday night in the San Siro. They have had an indifferent start to their Serie A campaign with an opening day loss at Verona, a home win against Cagliari and a draw at Torino. Celtic with 11 competitive games already behind them could take advantage if they come out of the blocks fast and in the face of the Italians, if not they may find themselves losing goals to the likes of Balotelli and Kaka. Celtic, could with a full-house behind them at Celtic Park, cause this AC Milan side some serious problems and they will have to take something from the Italians if they hope to escape from this group. PREDICTION – 4 points out of 6. Also in Celtic’s group are Catalan giants Barcelona. Whereas last season Barcelona could claim to not know much about Celtic, they will be unable now to use this ‘excuse’ having lost famously at Celtic last season as well as having being played close by the Parkhead side at the Nou Camp. Barcelona still contains the immense talents of Xavi, Iniesta, Messi and has added the ‘new Messi’ in Neymar from Santos. Could lightning strike twice for Celtic? No I don’t think so. Barcelona will be looking to avenge that last result and I can’t see Celtic taking more 12


than a point away from them at home or away. PREDICTION – 1 point out of 6. Last but not least in the group of champions are Eredivise winners Ajax. The Amsterdam outfit are not the giants they used to be before the advent of satellite TV, but they are still a force to be reckoned with under Frank de Boer. Celtic will have to look out for 23-year-old Icelandic striker Kolbeinn Sigþórsson and Dutch international striker Diem De Jong. They are a lethal partnership who have already scored seven goals between them this season. Ajax have a young team, but is still full of internationals with top level experience. They managed to edge out Manchester City last season to gain a Europa League place so will be no mugs. Celtic will be looking to get a home win and at least a draw in Amsterdam if they are to finish ahead of the Dutch side. PREDICTION – 3 points out of 6. Final points and placing prediction – 8 points from 18 with a third place finish.

Nathan MacKenzie is a staff writer at Scotzine.com and a student journalist at the University of West of Scotland.

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Second place is a must for Italian giants By Steven Bell

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longside Barcelona, AC Milan head into the 2013/2014 UEFA Champions League as favourites to progress from Group H. But only just. The Rossoneri can no longer claim to be the feared side of old and have clumsily stumbled through the opening rounds of the new Serie A season. Second in a group of previous winners of the competition is the minimum requirement for Milan in this year’s Champions League; falling short of this expectation is not an option. Milan will start the campaign after a mildly impressive end to the 2012/2013 season. After a disastrous start, the Milan giants finished 3rd in Serie A and cemented their place in Europe’s top competition once more thanks to tactical nous, emerging talents and of course Mario Balotelli; he scored 12 goals in 13 appearances since his January move from Manchester City. Although at times controversial, the Italian international’s contribution to the Milan cause cannot be questioned. The influence of Balotelli was not available during Milan’s Champions League exploits last term due to his participation with Manchester City. However, Milan emerged from their group to reach the last 16 of the competition; a competition they have won on seven previous occasions making them one of the most decorated sides in the competition’s history. The round of 16 brought Barcelona to the San Siro in what was to be billed a walk in the park for the Spanish giants. This it was not, as Allegri’s men performed miracles and dominated the match to win 2-0. It was simply a tactical masterclass from Allegri who completely nullified any threat from Lional Messi and co. Optimism was high for the return leg at the Camp Nou, but nothing could stop Barcelona clinching a 4-0 win; although not without a few scares as Milan could have made it a different story had they taken a chance or two. Eliminated, AC Milan did not go out without a fight and the victory over Barcelona in Milan would be a memorable moment for supporters in the season. With the season over, and Champions League qualification secured, 15


both fans and management knew that areas of the side would need to be reinforced. Allowing midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng to leave for Schalke for around £8.8m served only to weaken the side, such was his influence in the middle of the park and contribution to the goals tally; notably, a brace in the 3-0 win against PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League Playoff tie in August, ensuring progression to the group stage of this year’s competition. Key arrivals this summer have been delivered at the San Siro with Andrea Poli arriving from Sampdoria for a mere £2.6m, Alessandro Matri arriving from Juventus for around £9.6m and of course Kaka, who made his return to Milan on a free transfer from Real Madrid. Kaka’s arrival has renewed fans’ hopes ahead of the new season, conjuring memories of his past performances both in Italy and European competition. To say these key signings have not hit the ground running would something of an understatement as Milan suffered defeat in their opening day of the Serie A campaign against lowly Verona. A win at home to Cagliari followed, then a rather lucky 2-2 draw with Torino on Saturday mean Milan have been shaky at best. Kaka managed 70 minutes against Torino without contributing much, as a stoppage time penalty from Mario Balotelli clinched a point for Milan. Of course, Kaka’s lack of game time at Madrid means the Brazilian will need to be eased back into action to recapture fitness and gel with the new side. Serie A form aside, Milan have a new plethora of options in attack which should be a cause for concern for Group H. As well as Balotelli, Stephan El-Shaarawy is a clinical finisher and finished last season with 18 goals. At only 20, the striker is a huge talent and is only likely to improve. Robinho, Giampaolo Pazzini and Matri also provide options, benefitting from Champions League experience; the latter having scored twice in Juventus’ 5-0 aggregate annihilation of Celtic in last year’s round of 16 tie. In terms of midfield, Poli’s arrival strengthens it as well as Nigel De Jong’s return from injury; the Dutchman’s strength and tenacity in the deep midfield role used by Allegri is key to breaking up attacks and retaining possession. Captain Riccardo Montolivo and returning hero Kaka will add creativity and support for the front men. Defensively, Mexes’ lack of pace could be a chink in the Milan armour, but teams will need to get past the defensive midfield wall likely to be in force through De Jong and Poli; not an easy task. The summer has saw Milan strengthen greatly without compromising any areas. The have a good depth to the squad, a healthy mix of youth and experience and a coach more than capable of getting it tactically spot on. Although the start to their Serie A campaign has been tame, with new players to settle in and a number to come back from injury, the Milan faithful could see their side difficult to beat in this year’s Champions League. 16


Barca eager to forget last season’s campaign By Anthony Hocking

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he Catalan giants will be eager to return to Champions League action, as I am sure with all innate winners the humbling at the hands of Bayern Munich will still be playing on their minds. A seven goals aggregate score sent a message out from Bayern that this was their year. The signs were there in the group stages, conceding five and scoring eight in the first four games. They obviously had interruptions in their preparation all last season with the on-going illness of coach Tito Vilanova, which in my opinion had a major influence in Barca’s performance in Europe. League form doesnt throw up the same level of competition outwith several La Liga sides. Barcelona successfully negotiated the group stage with four wins, one defeat and a draw in the final match away to Benfica. The form after the winter break wasn’t great and AC Milan took full advantage of that in the San Siro in the first leg of their last 16 tie. Two great counter attacking goals from Kevin Price Boateng and Muntari sealed a famous victory for Max Allegri’s men. Like most of you, I felt three goals at the Nou Camp is something Barcelona achieve on a regular basis. There was a change in formation to a 3-5-2 system and before the hour they were three goals to the good with Messi (2) stealing the show and Villa adding a third. Flying full back Alba fired in a fourth in stoppage time to seal a 4-0 second leg win. Cash rich PSG were the next opponents with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Beckham adding to the glamour of the tie. Barcelona controlled the game and PSG broke very quickly with Pastore, Lavezzi and Zlatan, an area where I think Barcelona struggle. Pace on the counter attack against the centre halfs, who are often midfielders in Puyol’s absence, is an area for teams to attack. three late goals, two coming for PSG meant a draw in Paris lined up a thrilling second leg. Messi picked up an injury and aggravated it against Athletico Bilbao the following week. The second leg Javier Pastore’s clipped finish put Paris St-Germain ahead for the first time in the tie, 3-2 on aggregate. But Messi, who suffered a hamstring strain in the first leg, inspired Barca and was involved as Pedro hammered home from 15 yards. This meant Barcelona made history 17


Š Steve Welsh at miniboro..com


and became the first club to reach six European Cup Semi finals in a row, beaten Real Madrid’s record of five from the late 50’s. The Humbling in Munich, was a meeting where Barca’s worst defeat in Europe (since they were beaten by the same scoreline by Dynamo Kiev in 1997(, and no team has lost the first leg of a European Cup tie by four or more goals and progressed to the next round. Barca coach Tito Vilanova gambled and lost on a clearly unfit Lionel Messi - but to suggest this was the prime factor behind this crushing defeat is to do a grave disservice to Bayern. They were stronger and quicker in every tackle and they matched the football of Barcelona comfortably, albeit more direct. Bayern took the lead by the instrumental Mueller, with Gomez, Robben and Mueller completing the job in the second half. Bayern allowed Barcelona to have the ball on their own 18 yard line but pressure from just inside Barcelona’s defence with Robben/ Ribery/Mueller providing cover for their full backs closing off any space for Barca to exploit. The second leg in the Nou Camp admittedly played into the hands and of the course the style of this countering Bayern side, but I did not expect and second mauling of Barcelona. Bayern Munich pulled off a stunning 3-0 victory over Barcelona at the Nou Camp to complete a record Champions League semi-final aggregate win. Arjen Robben opened the scoring shortly after half-time when he cut in from the right and found the top corner. Gerard Pique turned Franck Ribery’s cross into his own net before Thomas Mueller headed in at the far post to complete the 7-0 aggregate rout. From Mario Mandzukic’s selfless work as the lone striker, to the slick pass-and-move skills of those behind him, the visitors outplayed Tito Vilanova’s side. Their ruthlessly efficient counterattacks always carried a goal threat, to the extent that Barcelona were reluctant to commit enough men forward to seriously test the stout Bayern defence. Bayern of course went onto with the all German final at Wembley. What is the difference in Barcelona’s 2013-14 campaign under new manager Tata Martino? Looking at this new campaign in comparison to last, one thing stands out……Neymar. Without getting too excited about him and Messi playing together, alone he offers flair and match winning ability in the absence of Messi, a key quality lacking in last season’s Champions League. Tata has also altered the approach play, they are even more direct than under Tito and Pep. This more direct approach will help players like Alexis Sanchez who isn’t the most skilful player technically but his running past opponents will be more suited to this play. The patient build up often allowed teams to surround him and nullify the threat he poses. PREDICTION: I expect Barcelona to take almost maximum points from this group, Celtic are weaker since they last met, as have Ajax. AC Milan will prove a sterner test. At the moment they do have a number of injury problems but Barcelona and Milan should progress before the final knock out game. 18


Thanks to Peter McVitie, Nathan MacKenzie, Anthony Hocking and Steven Bell for their written contibutions. Illustrations are by the talented Steve Welsh at miniboro.com and photographs supplied by actionplus.co.uk. Keep up to date with Celtic’s Champions League campaign and Scottish football in general with Scotzine - arguably the biggest independent Scottish football site on the net covering all levels of the Scottish game. Published by Scotzine Sports Limited

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Brought to you by Scotzine. We produce a pre-campaign supplement for Celtic fans as the Parkhead club embark on another Champions League cam...

FITBA Supplement: Celtic in the Champions League  

Brought to you by Scotzine. We produce a pre-campaign supplement for Celtic fans as the Parkhead club embark on another Champions League cam...

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