Champions League: Celtic and Barcelona a universe apart

Barcelona's Luis Suarez celebrates scoring against Celtic
Luis Suarez scored twice against Celtic on Tuesday

You didn't need to speak the language to know what Luis Enrique was getting at in the aftermath of Tuesday's 7-0 annihilation of Celtic at the Nou Camp.

It was all there in his gestures; his smile, his hands, his little look to the gods.

The Barcelona coach was talking about Lionel Messi. He said that Messi is the greatest player there has ever been, that whether he plays as a six, an eight, a nine or a 10, it doesn't matter. The number on the back is irrelevant when the talent is so vast.

"If he was a full-back, he'd be the best," said Enrique. "Just enjoy him."

Enjoy him, enjoy Luis Suarez, enjoy Neymar - the storied MSN.

Wince for Celtic in their embarrassment - not a word that manager Brendan Rodgers agreed with but one that his defender, Erik Sviatchenko, used - while acknowledging, too, that a seasoned Barca watcher said post-match that this was the best he had seen them play since they put Bayern Munich to the sword in the Champions League semi-final in 2015.

That first-leg against the German behemoths ended 3-0. Last season, Barca beat Real Madrid 4-0. If they can do it to them then, truly, nobody is safe.

Barcelona's Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez celebrate against Celtic
Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez all scored against Celtic

In the last year, Barca have put six on Athletic Bilbao and Celta Vigo, the teams that finished fifth and sixth in La Liga, they put six more on Roma in the Champions League, they put seven on Valencia and eight on Deportivo.

Celtic have had the misfortune to run into Barca in their last two matches in the Champions League group stage and the impact has been akin to a fly hitting a windscreen of a moving car- aggregate score: Barcelona 13, Celtic 1.

The MSN goals and assists statistics head inexorably into the realms of science fiction. As a threesome, in two full seasons and in the early weeks of this season, they have scored a combined 266 goals and have 130 assists.

In his career, for club and country, Messi has played 651 games and has 515 goals and more than 200 assists. Tuesday night was Suarez's 101st game for Barca and he's already scored 89 goals with 44 assists. Neymar has played 32 Champions League games and has either scored or assisted 29 times.

That's what you get for E700,000 a week for the three.

Barca went for the jugular

How long did it take for Celtic to get spooked on Tuesday night? A minute, maybe two. Certainly, by the third minute, they were beginning to unravel, their collective will picked apart by the genius in this Barcelona team.

You knew that Barca meant business in the opening stages, not just through the space that Barca found and the goal they scored but by the fact that had Messi not rifled his shot over Dorus de Vries and into the back of his net he could just as easily have picked out Gerard Pique, who was in support and standing free just outside Celtic's six-yard box.

That's a centre-half doubling up as a centre-forward. When that's happening in the third minute then you know that the hosts are tuned-in and that the visitors are in trouble. Barca went for the jugular from the get-go.

As the goals rained down on them, you thought of Kell Brook's comments after his fight with Gennady Golovkin on Saturday night. Brook's vision was impaired and, by fight's end, he was seeing three versions of the Kazakhstani coming at him.

Celtic's Moussa Dembele and Nir Bitton show their disappointment
Celtic were brought back down to earth after their weekend win over Rangers

Celtic didn't take any blows to the head, but their eyes were blurred nonetheless. They couldn't see the runs coming any more than Brook could see the punches.

No Celtic player could track Messi for the second, nobody saw Andres Iniesta appearing for the fourth, or Messi for the fifth. Nobody could get close enough to Suarez for the sixth or seventh. It's as if they wore invisibility cloaks.

They existed in a parallel universe. To borrow a line from another sport, it was, as the great Bobby Jones said of the young Jack Nicklaus: "He plays a game with which I am not familiar."

De Vries is no Forster

For Celtic to have been competitive in Barcelona, they needed a series of wholly improbable events to have taken place. They would have required Enrique's team to have a bit of a shocker while at the same time producing a performance of studied concentration and discipline.

They would have needed an inspired night from their goalkeeper, De Vries, in the style of Fraser Forster in the 2012-13 Champions League, when he made a string of world-class saves against Messi, in particular. De Vries is no Forster, though.

It would have needed a stellar showing from Celtic's defence, the kind of effort that has singularly eluded them in the opening months of the season. Celtic had conceded eight goals in their five games leading up to Tuesday night. They now have just two clean sheets from 12 games.

Celtic could afford, just, to ship four goals in two matches against Hapoel Beer-Sheva and still make it through to the Champions League group stage because their attack was good enough to get them there.

Celtic captain Scott Brown remonstrates to Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic
Celtic captain Scott Brown expressed anger, disappointment and shock

They got away with conceding two to St Johnstone in Perth because they scored four. Switching off to allow Adam Rooney to score for Aberdeen at Parkhead didn't matter because they blasted the Dons' own defence.

The same for the concession of Joe Garner's soft goal in the Old Firm match. That defensive lapse was never going to hurt them.

Against Barcelona, that kind of weakness is exposed and, when Barca are in the mood, it can get exposed repeatedly and cruelly.

Champions League is a brutal world

Celtic shouldn't beat themselves up over this. It was deeply uncomfortable, that's true. Their pride has been trampled underfoot, no question.

Barca toyed with Celtic. They rag-dolled them. But they rag-doll many teams.

They are the most sophisticated attacking machine you could ever care to see. Possibly the most sophisticated and greatest in the history of the club game.

The Champions League is a brutal world, but there's no other place that Celtic would rather be, seven goals or not.

Once they get over the anger, disappointment and shock - captain Scott Brown seemed to display all three in his media interview afterwards - they'll know that, while things need to get better for them in this savagely difficult group, they could also be a whole lot worse.

For Celtic, it's Pep Guardiola's Manchester City next. Another scary ride with a financial superpower.

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