In what will be a strange encounter, back Barcelona to overcome a distracted Celtic team at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
It’s a given that a club like Barcelona will have absentees after the international summer tournaments. But this time a boatload of players have been left behind as they ease themselves back to fitness.
The rest, like Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, Sergi Roberto and new boy Denis Suárez are all part of a squad that is bolstered by exciting youngsters like Carles Aleñá and obscure “B” players such as Jesus Alfaro.
Still Too Good
The thing you can always expect about Barcelona, even if the team is packed with kids and unknowns, is that the technical level will be high.
These lads will provide enough of a base for the sprinkling for superstars to work their magic. Even if Messi and Luis Suárez only get 45 minutes of football it will be more than enough to do damage against Celtic.
Bigger Fish for Celtic
That’s because the Bhoys are mired in a gruelling Champions League qualification campaign. On Tuesday they flew out to Kazakhstan to play Astana, and the return leg at Celtic Park is next week.
The last thing Brendan Rodgers will want to do is risk any of his players in a friendly. It looks most likely that if any of McGregor, Griffiths, Dembele or Armstrong start they’ll be under orders to take it easy and won’t make it past halftime.
This is what happened in last weekend’s friendly against Leicester, which leaves the potential for some very inexperienced players to be exposed to a couple of the best forwards in the world.
If Celtic get a decent result in Astana on Wednesday they’re sure to keep the first-teamers under wraps in preparation for the home leg.
Whatever happens, Rodgers will probably give minutes to fringe players like Saidy Janko, new boy Kristoffer Ajer, Šimunović and Nadir Çiftçi.
A Weird One
If ever there was a match that shows how strange preseason can be, it’s this one. Celtic are well into their competitive season now, but Barcelona haven’t even played a single friendly yet.
Normally you’d think that this would work in Celtic’s favour, as they are already match-fit. But Champions League qualification is far too important to the Bhoys, and they won’t be concerned about the result at the Aviva Stadium.