Sport Soccer

Thursday 22 February 2018

Neil Lennon lashes out at 'weak' players

Barcelona 6 Celtic 1

Neymar beats Virgil van Dijk to the ball to score Barcelona's fourth goal against Celtic at the Nou Camp last night
Neymar beats Virgil van Dijk to the ball to score Barcelona's fourth goal against Celtic at the Nou Camp last night

Roddy Forsyth

Those who feel Celtic have gone backwards since their Champions League heroics last year were offered further substance by the manner of their severe chastisement in the Nou Camp.

In the venue where they pushed Barcelona until stoppage-time in last season's group stage, Neil Lennon's players were long out of contention by the interval, following a half when Neymar gave a masterclass in stepovers, flicks and pace to leave his markers for dead time and time again.

He scored his first tournament goal a few seconds before half-time and his second soon after the restart, having previously supplied Pedro with a killer pass for Barca's second, to supplement the opener from Gerard Pique, scored after only seven minutes. Neymar's third was not long delayed as Barca toyed with the Scottish Premiership leaders.

Lennon didn't hold back in the post-match press conference describing some of his players as "weak" and lacking "bravery".

An "angry and disappointed" Parkhead boss said: "Barcelona were fantastic as we expected them to be but we were very poor.

"I wouldn't say some players gave up but it certainly looked that way at times.

"I would never accuse a player of doing that but a lot of half-hearted performances and as a manager that was the most disappointing aspect of the whole game.

"There was no bravery on the ball tonight, we started off nervously and it looked like our heads went down at 2-0. We were weak and that has not been like us, that is something I have to address going forward.

UNACCEPTABLE

"It is a sore one and I am hurting a little bit as are the players. It was unacceptable from some of the players, nowhere near the performances against Barcelona recently so that was very disappointing, obviously.

"There were only two or three players who showed anything, Virgil van Dijk, Adam Matthews and Mikael Lustig and I excuse the goalkeeper (Fraser Forster) but the rest of the team were very very poor, well below the standards set in the last few years. It was really tough to take. We were playing a great side but we were better than that."

Lennon chose to play Teemu Pukki, whose contribution had been underwhelming since joining from Schalke 04 in the summer which left Kris Commons, Charlie Mulgrew and Dubliner Anthony Stokes to the bench where they could at least glance along and see that Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba were similarly kicking their heels, having been held as reinforcements for a side that lacked Lionel Messi.

However, the writing was on the wall early as Pedro prompted Alexis Sanchez for a drive which Fraser Forster blocked with his legs, only for the rebound to fall to the marauding Pique, who struck home from close range.

To Celtic's credit, they kept the issue alive for most of the first period, prompting the thought that they might make it into the dressing-room, but that slim hope was extinguished six minutes before the break when Pique found Neymar for a cutback that begged to be put away -- and duly was -- by Pedro.

As Celtic visibly shrank, Neymar plunged the knife home yet again, getting in on the act with a smart shot from Martin Montoya's prompt.

There was no relief from the Spanish Inquisition after the restart. Xavi extended the torment by picking out Neymar who struck a glorious drive from the edge of the box to leave Forster stranded as it swept beyond him.

The 'keeper was entitled to feel like the target in a shooting gallery when Neymar breezed past Efe Ambrose to shoot home via a deflection from Matthews.

Neymar would have got a fourth within moments -- although he was offside -- after gallivanting around Forster only for Pedro to take the ball off his foot and drive off Ambrose. Cristian Tello, meanwhile, had replaced Alexis and, after being flagged offside at his first touch, delivered a rasping left-foot finish, with the help of a deflection off Virgil van Dijk, to take the score to 6-0.

There was still time for that wholly unforeseen development, a Celtic goal headed home by Georgios Samaras. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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