The team that manages to control possession and stay focused amid a carnival atmosphere will emerge victorious from Matchday 2 at El Madrigal when Villarreal CF host Group E opponents Celtic FC.
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The team that manages to control possession and stay focused in a carnival atmosphere will emerge victorious from Matchday 2 at El Madrigal when Villarreal CF host Celtic FC.
That was the unanimous verdict of Manuel Pellegrini, whose side achieved a notable opening-day draw at European champions Manchester United FC, and Gordon Strachan who is looking for the first victory in what will be Celtic's 18th UEFA Champions League away match. Pellegrini and his players are convinced the Scottish champions now have enough experience and quality to register three away points in the imminent future. But they are determined that this result should not occur on their watch – despite the assistance of a large, boisterous travelling support.
Villarreal, second only to Valencia CF in the Liga after defeating Sporting Gijón on Saturday, have not lost in the six home UEFA Champions League games they have contested and are unbeaten at El Madrigal in all competitions since December. Pellegrini wants the fortress mentality to continue. "It doesn't concern me that Celtic play so strongly at home and then lose away," said the experienced Chilean coach who took his team to the semi-final of this competition on their debut in 2005/06. "Every new game turns a page and I've emphasised to my squad they must produce a top-quality display to beat Celtic. When you play British-style teams it's often the case that they are used to getting the ball back quickly. One of the keys to playing well against them, and winning, is denying them possession."
The Yellow Submarine are missing Nihat Kahveci because of an adductor injury, and do without Pascal Cygan and Mati Fernández for tactical reasons. But their defence, where Gonzalo Rodríguez is likely to return, is superb. Villarreal are among a privileged group of three, with Liverpool FC and Juventus, in Europe's leading leagues in having conceded only two league goals this season. "We are an attacking side in philosophy but we've learned to defend really well, both with and without the ball," agreed Pellegrini.
Strachan is deprived of full-back Andreas Hinkel and must make a late decision on the fitness of striker Georgios Samaras who played in Saturday's defeat of Aberdeen FC. The Celtic manager believes his charges, who drew 0-0 with Aalborg BK in Glasgow on Matchday 1, need a more conservative attitude when they use possession than that which serves them so well in Scotland. "The key to Champions League success is use of the ball," he argued. "Winning, retaining and then using the ball with pace and intelligence is the next level for this team, and I hope we are now better equipped for that task than previously.
"Everyone seems to think that 4-5-1 is the best style to defend, but it hasn't worked for us so I'm going to try a different approach." Celtic's two away victories during their pre-season, against FC Porto and Feyenoord, may provide the template. "The tactical approach for this game won't be a total surprise to my players although it needs to differ from how we play in Scotland," said Strachan. "But, above all, I want a performance we can be proud of and then it can be in the lap of the Gods."