Celtic face arguably the toughest assignment in club football this evening as they travel to the Nou Camp to take on Barcelona in a crunch Champions League contest.
As ever, the Catalan charge will be led by the irrepressible Lionel Messi and his back-up cast of pass masters and the Bhoys will have to do everything in their power to stop the Argentine wizard if they are to have any chance of causing a huge upset.
You probably don’t need me to remind you of Messi’s goalscoring exploits over the past few years, but the numbers are so extraordinary that a selection of them are worth repeating.
The 25-year-old has now fired 268 goals in 341 career games for Barcelona, including 21 hat-tricks, and is the third highest scorer in the history of the Champions League with 53 goals.
He has 20 goals already for club and country this season and his astonishing tally of 71 in all competitions for the Blaugrana and Argentina in 2012 puts him just four shy of Pele’s all-time calendar year record of 75 (66 for Santos and nine for Brazil, set in 1959).
With Messi grabbing yet another treble at the weekend against Deportivo La Coruna, we decided to price up a special market for this evening’s clash at the Nou Camp – could he outscore the entire Celtic team?
Messi can be backed at 1/2 to score more goals than the Bhoys, who are a huge 5/1 to beat his tally, while a tie is available at 3/1.
In the opinion of this humble writer, Neil Lennon’s men have enough about them to get on the scoresheet this evening (a view shared by Shaun Curran in his full betting preview of the match).
After all, Barca have been at sixes and sevens defensively at times this season – not least in the madcap 5-4 win over Depor – as they continue to field Javier Mascherano and, on occasion, Alex Song as makeshift centre-backs.
So with inspirational skipper Carles Puyol missing with an arm injury and Gerard Pique and Dani Alves also sidelined, it is not unreasonable to suggest that Messi may need to score at least twice against Celtic to justify those 1/2 odds.
But considering the way his 11 La Liga goals thus far this term have arrived – braces against Real Sociedad, Osasuna, Getafe and Real Madrid, in addition to his hat-trick against Depor – the Bhoys must surely be fearing the worst as they prepare to face arguably the greatest footballer the game has ever witnessed.
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