In a season which has left many Celtic supporters shaking their heads and venting their spleen, tonight could see the club secure a last sixteen place in the Europa League. It’s been a bumpy ride for Ronny Deila but there has also been some recent progress as well.
When you consider that a large portion of fans were calling for the head of the Norwegian coach between September and October, you would think that all was lost. In reality, all Ronny Deila is guilty of is trying to forge a team of his own during a period of transition which to date sees Celtic playing in four competitions.
The club exited the Champions League qualifier’s twice but secured a group stage place in Europe’s second string club competition. As much of a disappointment as that may have been on an entertainment and financial level for all concerned, Celtic escaped what might have been a potential six game slaughter.
Instead, the Europa League has offered a “safe haven” of sorts for Ronny Deila and some of his players to cut their teeth in a group phase without losing too much face. The lower profile has drawn less attention, but provides a sufficient challenge to test your squad.
Celtic have faired well against opposition who at this moment in time are no better or worse. Astra Giurgiu have turned out to be the group’s whipping boys though it didn’t prevent Celtic from handing them their first point in the group phase.
With that in mind, it wouldn’t surprise me if they got something off Dinamo Zagreb tonight. European football is a funny game and your luck can change very quickly.
Tonight Celtic and FC Salzburg go head to head at Celtic Park. Both teams have seen their domestic fortunes change since their last meeting so this evenings result will not only help decide who is favourite to win the group, but who has improved since mid September.
In that last tie it was 2-2 and I was pretty pleased with the result. Celtic weren’t top of their game or the league and the same can be said of FC Salzburg at the time.
Celtic are far from the finished article but have improved as have Salzburg. Both teams go into tonights match as domestic league leaders.
The main worry Ronny Deila might have tonight is team selection. With some players out and some doubts, getting the right blend from the start must allow room for change later in the match.
Primary hitman John Guidetti is ineligible and by far Deila’s most potent goal threat. Stefan Scepovic and Leigh Griffiths are the alternatives though both have a combined lack of appearances, form and goals.
So it could well be fans favourite Kris Commons to provide for Celtic this evening. Despite his uncertain future at the club he’s remains a key goal threat.
His European goal tally may pale in comparison to his domestic one for Celtic (5 European, 53 domestic) but he can conjur something out of nothing. In game like tonight’s, it could be his particular ability that could decide this match and indeed Celtic’s European destiny.
As much as goals scored are important, Celtic will also need to be vigilant in defence. Doubt remains over Jason Denayer and with Mikael Lustig already out, that could mean playing Efe Ambrose.
I don’t have to say how much that scares me. Ronny could decide to play Charlie Mulgrew in defence but he hasn’t played their regularly for a long time.
So for this bhoy I’d pack that midfield to protect the defence and allow Commons or Johansen to make those forward runs.
Anthony Stokes on the left and James Forrest on the right would be my preference. In the middle of the park it will all come down to who is available come kick off.
Deila has Scott Brown, Stefan Johansen, Kris Commons and Beram Kayal to choose from. If he doesn’t have to use Charlie Mulgrew at the back he will also be in contention.
Stefan Scepovic may get the nod over Griffiths but for me the latter is the bigger goal threat. Whoever he goes with they will need service and in these games that can be in short supply.
Its a huge game for Celtic, Ronny Deila and player’s like Commons and Scepovic. Let’s hope its a memorable one.