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Messi absence gives hope to Celtic

Neil Lennon said that the absence of Lionel Messi was "very good news" for his Celtic FC side but he admitted that they still faced a daunting challenge against FC Barcelona.

Messi absence gives hope to Celtic
Messi absence gives hope to Celtic ©UEFA.com

Celtic FC manager Neil Lennon said that the absence of Lionel Messi was good news for the hosts but admitted it would still be a "huge bonus" to take anything from their second Group H outing having lost the first 2-0 at AC Milan. Their opponents, of course, are a FC Barcelona side whose coach Gerardo Martino has warned his players that the unavailability of their No10 would provide no excuse if they failed to deliver.

Neil Lennon, manager
[Messi's absence] is obviously very good news for us. For me he's the best player in the world. There's sadness too because it's always fantastic to see the greatest here in Glasgow. Comparing [Neymar and Messi] is like comparing a dog with a cat. They're two different players altogether. Neymar's wonderfully gifted, predominantly playing on the left-hand side. He's got goals in him. He's quick, he's only young, he has got a fantastic future. But it's too early to make a comparison with Messi.

It's difficult to compare [Barça this year and last year]. They're unbeaten domestically and had a great start in the group. People say they have defensive problems with injuries but they're keeping clean sheets. It helps that you can't get the ball off them and they have sustained periods of pressure.

We'll try to limit Barcelona to as few chances as we possibly can and capitalise on the chances we get like we did last year. For me, Barcelona are a class above Milan – no disrespect to Milan – in the way they pass the ball, in the way they create chances, in the pace they have. They don't really have a proper centre-forward as such, that's where our centre-halves need to be very, very concentrated and alert all the time because they have danger coming from wider, from deep. When they get the ball in the final third, the speed of the passing is phenomenal sometimes.

If we don't prevail in the game and Milan beat Ajax, it's going to be increasingly difficult. It won't be the end of the world if we don't win. We are preparing for a really tough game and it would be fantastic to get something out of it. It would be a huge bonus.

Weekend result
Saturday: Kilmarnock FC 2-5 Celtic (Clingan 35, Clohessy 42; Samaras 24 27 88, Commons 20, Baldé 90)
Forster; Matthews (Lustig 39), Van Dijk, Ambrose, Izaguirre; Commons, Brown, Mulgrew, Samaras (Atajić 90); Stokes, Pukki (Baldé 78).

• Giorgos Samaras hit his first league hat-trick for Celtic in nearly six years and Baldé opened his club account as they bounced back from their shock League Cup loss to Greenock Morton FC.

Team news
Joe Ledley has been ruled out with a groin injury while Derk Boerriger is a doubt. James Forrest and Beram Kayal both trained on the eve of the game and are available. Full-back Adam Matthews is also in the squad even though he had to be withdrawn during the first half at Rugby Park on Saturday owing to illness.

Gerardo Martino, coach
Messi is the best player in the world but we have other great players and his absence can't be an excuse if we don't get a good result. I'm not sure his absence is a test for other players. We've had other games without Messi in the past.

You're all assuming that tomorrow's game will be similar from last year's but we don't know. We'll have to be careful with the long ball and be careful not to give away the ball too easily. We're bringing young players from the B team because we need centre-backs because of injuries – [Javier] Mascherano, [Carles] Puyol and [Jordi] Alba are injured so we need to find solutions. If we keep the ball and focus, we won't concede set pieces where they are very dangerous; they are good in the air and have a great physical presence because they are taller than our players.

I don't particularly believe in revenge in football. Barça players are always expected to do well, they are scrutinised by everybody. So we want to have a good game tomorrow. I'm still trying to adapt as Barcelona manager. We're getting great results but it's also true we need to play better football.

Weekend result
Saturday: UD Almería 0-2 Barcelona (Messi 21, Adriano 56)
Valdés; Alves, Bartra, Piqué, Adriano; Alexis Sánchez (Tello 81), Iniesta (Dos Santos 90), Busquets, Fàbregas, Pedro Rodríguez; Messi (Xavi 29).

• Barcelona stretched their perfect Liga start to a club-record seven wins but Messi's first-half injury soured the victory.

Team news
Messi is out for two to three weeks with that thigh injury. Alba, Mascherano (both hamstring), Puyol, Isaac Cuenca (both knee) and Ibrahim Afellay (thigh) have also remained behind in Barcelona.

Match fact
• Celtic will hope lightning strikes twice when they welcome Barcelona back to Glasgow 11 months after a memorable 2-1 victory against the Spanish champions in last season's group stage. That win on 7 November came the day after their 125th anniversary.

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