Another week, another Thursday night Europa League match to look forward to. After a dramatic and pulsating ninety-plus minutes at Paradise last week, the honours are even.
It is anyone’s guess how tonight’s second leg encounter will turn out. What Celtic require though, is not completely out of the question.
If I felt Celtic had to be cautious going into last weeks match, then they must be vigilant this week. There are enough signs to suggest that this tie is far from over but lessons must also be learned from last week.
Italy isn’t a happy hunting ground for Celtic, having never won there. A 1-1 draw with Udinese in the group phase of the same competition back in 2011 is the best offering since a 0-0 against Inter Milan in a 1972 European Cup Semi-final, 1st leg.
The San Siro was the venue for that semi-final 1st leg. It remains an unlucky stadium for Celtic regardless of the opponents be it Inter, AC or even Feyenoord.
Does that mean Celtic will suffer a similar fate once more? Has history confined us to eternal misery in Milan?
Well to be fair, winning away from home is never an easy task in Europe anyway. Particularly when your opponents are Italian or of the Milan persuasion.
That doesn’t mean Ronny Deila’s Celtic side cannot write their own piece of history tonight. To make progress in Europe, you must overcome the hurdles that stand in your way.
Martin O’Neill put Celtic back on the European map by taking them into the Champions League group phase for their first, second and third time. And nobody needs reminding about the year we went to Seville.
Gordon Strachan took the club one step further by making the last 16 of the Champions League on two occasions. He did so with what many would say was an inferior team to his predecessors.
Under Neil Lennon, we have one of our most memorable encounters of the modern day by beating Barcelona at Celtic Park. Lennon also got Celtic’s only ever away win in the group phase that season as well as making the last 16 like Strachan.
The question is will we see Ronny Deila make this kind of leap forward this season? Maybe, maybe not but my gut feeling is that he doing all the right things to make it happen in the future for certain.
Celtic cannot compete with the top club transfer fees or the superstar salaries. What they can do is raise the level of expectation at the club.
As Ronny Deila said earlier in the season:
“if you see the fitness in the Champions League its unbelievable. Celtic is a big club, we want to go there. If we want to do that then we have to look outside the country, not inside.”
And by that, the Celtic head coach was talking about thinking outside the box and adopting top club methods. This is how you meet your opponent in Europe, by implementing the same standards of fitness, lifestyle and overall performance.
You bring any kind of player into a set up like that and you will soon learn if he has the ability to make it. Not only that, but it can attract a better candidate in the future.
Deila has seen his current players step up and meet the bar. It didn’t happen instantly, but he stuck to his plan when others were bashing him.
Now he has a squad of players that have all accepted that challenge and are willing to improve. That work must continue tonight as Celtic look to eliminate last weeks mistakes and take their chances.
If the Hoops can show the same determination and spirit at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza tonight as they did last week in Glasgow, they will be in with a fighting chance. Should the last 32 of the Europa Cup be Ronny’s last stop of this European campaign, its been a helluva a ride for the Celtic support but I remain optimistic.