71 goals in 2012.
Just to repeat, 71 goals in 2012.
And there is still two months of the year to go. Stats like these should not be something which can occur in the real world. They are more akin to the fantasy world of Football Manager of Fifa 13.
Yet there they are, the amount of times the genius that is Lionel Messi has scampered through a bewildered collection of defenders before slotting home for Barcelona and Argentina in this calendar year.
Another game, another obligatory hat–trick for the little Rosario born superstar, as this time it was the players of Deportivo La Coruna who were left bamboozled by his wizardry in the goal feast that was Barcelona’s 5-4 win on Saturday night.
Watching on was Celtic manager Neil Lennon, who had been flown over in the private jet of the club’s majority shareholder Dermot Desmond as part of his preparation for Tuesday night’s Champions League clash at the Nou Camp.
As he sat there with his notepad by his side, scribbling away, you could imagine Lennon struggling to devise any tactical plan whatsoever which could be productive in stopping Messi and co from giving Celtic the same sort of treatment handed out on a weekly basis to all of Barca’s opponents.
Teams have attempted all sorts of ways of stopping the Catalan juggernaut. Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan and Chelsea last season have found success by disrupting their rhythm with a mixture of the physical approach and a discipline in defending and attacking as a team.
Even Walter Smith’s Rangers managed to prevent Barca from hitting their normal heights in 2007 by holding Frank Rijkaard’s team to a 0-0 draw at Ibrox, a game which Messi, frustrated by his side’s inability to earn a victory, famously criticised their Scottish opponents as playing “anti-football”.
So it will be fascinating to see what Lennon has up his sleeve in dealing with Tito Vilanova’s team.
Realistically, the best any Celtic supporter can hope for is a low scoring defeat though some Hoops fans would be quick to point out that on their last two visits to the cathedral of sublime football that is the Nou Camp in 2004 and 2005, they have earned a share of the spoils.
However, the step up in class from the opposition they face in the SPL is huge. It’s okay stuffing the likes of St Mirren 5-0 as they did on Saturday, but when taking on the likes of Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Pedro, Villa and co, the Celtic players will really have to up their normal game considerably to a level they may never have reached before.
Fraser Foster will be relying not just on his back-line, but the whole team to produce the defensive performance of their lives, as the prospect of trying to stop Barca’s collection of superstars from getting opportunities to test him in the Celtic goal may have him on the verge of an anxiety breakdown.
However, no matter the result, it will be an evening to savour for the hordes of green and white clad faithful who will be travelling to Spain especially when considering that this time last year the prospect of the Parkhead team taking on the mighty Barcelona in the Champions League seemed a million miles away as Neil Lennon’s men sat 15 points behind Rangers in the SPL with the Celtic boss on the verge of losing his job.
It has been an incredible turnaround in their fortunes and on the back of a fantastic win in Moscow, the pressure is off Lennon as no one is expecting them to rip up the form book and secure what would be an amazing victory in the Nou Camp.
Come the end of the night though, the concern is that Messi may have found goal number 72, and 73, and 74…
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