Celtic 0 Barcelona 2
Celtic should not feel shamed by falling victim to a Barcelona team once again inspired by Lionel Messi. More disappointing for Brendan Rodgers than this result, one assumes, is the fact elimination from Europe was simultaneously confirmed. Celtic's manager must continue his rebuilding process when engaged only in domestic pursuits as even a Europa League place after Christmas proved beyond his side.
Barcelona were vastly superior on an evening where they did not seem to touch top gear. Messi’s prominence, so often taken for granted, was a joy to watch. The sharing of goals between Borussia Mönchengladbach and Manchester City means watch is precisely what Celtic will have to do after the conclusion of Group C.
Celtic’s European history is such that they have no cause to fear any opposition at home. Barça, indeed, were humbled here four years ago in what remains one of the marquee occasions in the Glasgow club’s history.
Still, Rodgers was not exaggerating with the pre-match assertion that his players must produce “the game of their lives”. Rules of modern day football finance have created a gulf between clubs such as these.Barcelona’s potency had been illustrated in the 7-0 demolition of Celtic in September, even if the goalless draw with Malaga on Saturday provided another glimmer of hope.
Luis Enrique had not been able to call upon Messi for that encounter. The iconic Argentine returned for this Champions League tie after recovering from a stomach bug.
Messi was duly prominent in the early stages. His feeding of Neymar created a ninth-minute opportunity which the Brazilian could not convert. Messi himself was soon wasteful when failing to connect with a terrific Sergio Busquets pass. The same accusation could be applied as the Argentinian flicked an Ivan Rakitic header over the crossbar from all of four yards. With 20 minutes played, perhaps Celtic could dream their illustrious visitors were to endure one of those nights.
Such ambition would prove in vain. Messi’s opening goal, taken first time, owed plenty to a wonderfully lofted Neymar pass. The Barcelona captain clipped the ball home, narrowly inside Craig Gordon’s near post.
Celtic had not been at all embarrassed during that first quarter of the match but the energy expended by the Scottish champions – what else could they do? – contrasted markedly with the Catalans. This, as wouldn’t be lost on Rodgers, probably did not bode well for Celtic.
Brilliance from Gordon kept Barça’s advantage at one by the interval. The Scotland goalkeeper produced acrobatics to deny Luis Suárez at point-blank range, Messi the architect. By this juncture, Barcelona were dominant.
Celtic were dealt a half-time blow when the injured Scott Sinclair had to go off. The 27-year-old has seen his career rejuvenated since a summer move from Aston Villa.
Sinclair’s replacement forged the 53rd-minute chance from which Celtic should have equalised. James Forrest’s cross found the head of Moussa Dembélé, who failed to further enhance a blossoming reputation when directly in front of goal, Marc-André ter Stegen afforded a straightforward save.
How costly that was to prove. In Barcelona's next attack Suárez was hauled to the ground by Emilio Izaguirre in the Celtic area. The penalty was quite correctly awarded, with Messi stepping forward to give his team breathing space. He should have completed his hat-trick with 23 minutes to play, instead dragging his shot wide after fine work from Neymar.
This was to prove Neymar's last positive act of the evening. Having received a booking for a clash with Mikael Lustig, he was fortunate not to collect another for a trip on the same player. Neymar was booed to the rafters as he was smartly substituted, 13 minutes from time. The contest had long since been settled.