Celtic welcome Barcelona to Glasgow on Tuesday night in their first Uefa Champions League Group H home game of the season.
The Catalans are overwhelming favourites to win the group and started their campaign with a 4-0 victory over Ajax, yet Celtic are familiar foes and they beat Barcelona 2-1 in Scotland 11 months ago.
That victory, to coincide with Celtic’s 125th anniversary, helped them qualify for the knockout stages of last season’s competition. It was also memorable for its atmosphere.
Crowds have dipped at Celtic Park for domestic games. A decade ago, it was full to its 60,000 capacity most weeks for league games. The average dropped to 46,917 last season and is 45,362 so far this term, but Champions League matches are almost always packed, with an atmosphere to rival the best in Europe.
Given their team’s technical inferiority against Europe’s best sides, this can really make a difference.
“The fans are really powerful and they help Celtic a lot,” said the Barcelona defender Gerard Pique. “I think the atmosphere is brilliant. It’s one of the best in Europe by far. Some Barcelona fans need to go there to see it because it’s a great experience.”
Barca appeared to be caught up in the emotion of the event last season.
“I think we played a good game and controlled the ball most of the time, but they had two chances and scored twice,” said Pique. “We have to learn from that.”
Celtic have a habit of drawing Barcelona in European competition and the Catalan players love going to Glasgow.
After the teams met in 2003/04, two of the players vowed to return as fans to sample an Old Firm game.
One, Luis Enrique, did just that.
“I went with friends and stood with the fans,” he explained. “I wore the scarf. I wanted to hear ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ before the game, to feel it as a fan. What a great atmosphere. I love the concept of following your team.”
Xavi is the other player, but he is still playing for Barca. He regularly mentions the atmosphere at Celtic in interviews.
And he should know.
He was part of the side that played in the 2003/04 Uefa Cup fourth round. Again, Celtic won at Parkhead and a draw at Barcelona was enough to see them through.
Barcelona won on both their subsequent visits to Celtic, though the Scots have won seven of their past nine European fixtures in Glasgow, the one defeat coming against Juventus in last season’s round of 16.
Celtic are buoyed by the news that they will not have to face Lionel Messi, who will be out of Tuesday night’s match with a thigh injury which will keep him sidelined for two to three weeks.
He left the pitch after 29 minutes in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Almeria which keeps the Catalans at the top of the Spanish Primera Liga with seven wins from seven.
Only Atletico Madrid, who defeated neighbours Real in the Madrid derby on Saturday, have been able to match their seven victories.