With all the presesaon dress rehearsals out of the way and the first step on the Champions League staircase done, the next task awaits Ronny Deila. Having seen off Stjarnan on their 4G pitch last week and dealt with a feisty Rennes side at Celtic Park on Saturday, the Hoops are ready for tonight’s third round of qualifying round.
Stjarnan offered Celtic their first and second competitive test of the summer but Qarabağ FK will be a different prospect altogether. With tonight’s first leg at home, Celtic will be aiming to stamp their authority on the tie before they have to travel to Baku for the second leg next week.
It’s a long trip with a time difference of four hours and whilst not nearly as daunting a trip as Karagandy was two years ago, the task is still a tough one. In the meantime Celtic must do their best to suppress Qarabağ FK’s knack of scoring and winning away in Europe.
Over the last three seasons (including the current one) their European stats read as:
HOME: Played 11 Won 5 Drawn 3 Lost 3
AWAY: Played 11 Won 5 Drawn 4 Lost 2
Having lost less than a quarter of all matches, suggests they might be stubborn and hard to break down. I’ve yet to see whether Ronny Deila is prepared to alter his approach with such teams to draw them out or continue to play the pressing game.
By comparison the last three seasons (including the current one) for Celtic are as follows:
HOME: Played 14 Won 9 Drawn 1 Lost 4 (or W8 L5 if you count the original Legia Warsaw score)
AWAY: Played 14 Won 3 Drawn 4 Lost 7
At some stage in European competition, you have to know when your challenger is more capable than you and adapt. Celtic’s UEFA coefficient ranking is 46th whilst Qarabağ’s is 139th but that still didn’t prevent the Hoops being trumped by Legia Warsaw (76th) and NK Maribor (83rd) last season.
Whilst a club ranked 139th by UEFA may not seem like a threat, Qarabağ could frustrate or even surprise Celtic particulary at this stage of the season. The last thing Celtic want this evening is to lose an away goal and I’m fairly certain that will be one of Qarabağ’s objectives.
It’s fair to say that this time last year Celtic were in a state of transition and playing home ties at Murrayfield but this year everyone will be expecting better from them.That could all come down to sqiad selection and it is anyones guess how Ronny will go.
Çiftçi or Griffiths? Or both?
Janko or Lustig? Forrest or Mackay-Steven?
Mulgrew or Izaguirre? Only Ronny knows.
The stage is set and it is home advantage Bhoy’s. Take it.