Celtic continue their run of home games tonight when Nomme Kalju of Estonia are welcomed at Celtic Park. It is the first leg in the second round of the Champions League qualifiers with both clubs aiming for that third round slot against Maccabi Tel-Aviv or CFR Cluj who also play this evening.
The Hoops have scored five goals and conceded two from the first round. Nomme Kalju scored two and conceded two in the same round.
This evening a clean sheet would be desirable for the Hoops with a few goals scored to take over to the relocated away venue of the A. Le Coq Arena in Tallinn next week. Their opponents have never made the group stages of either European tournament and this is only their second time in the Champions League qualifiers.
Their best showing in Europe was reaching the play off round for the Europa league in 2013. Last season they went out to Stjarnan in the first qualifying round of the Europa League, but to their credit they have been in Europe every season since 2011-2012
Celtic remain focussed on getting the squad up to speed with match sharpness, but the discipline is essential in these early rounds as well. You can expect the odd mistake, though too many and you might find yourself under unnecessary pressure.
I won’t underestimate Kalju because they are in the competition on merit. Not like those teams that finish second, third or fourth in their leagues.
Whilst the Estonians are far from a top club in a top league their aim is the same as ours. At this point in the season anything can happen and especially in this competition.
Celtic are in the midst of strengthening their back line and getting the squad fully fit. I’ve been encouraged by some of the performances so far in the team though such as Lewis Morgan and Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo.
Having spent most of his Celtic career on loan, Morgan’s presence in the team akin to having a new player. There is also the sense of fresh start for others such as Eboue Kouassi and Vakoun Issouf Bayo as well.
As time goes by there will undoubtedly be more ins and outs, but the the Kieran Tierney to Arsenal pursuit looks as though it is petering out. My feeling is that things will come together as Neil Lennon rubber stamps his authority as full time manager.
The impending signing of Hatem Abd Elhamed will be another boost for Neil as he aims to strengthen his squad. The Israeli’s primary position is said to be centre back, but he can also play defensive midfield and right back apparently.
Whether right back is the position he is earmarked for remains to be seen, but he doesn’t appear to have played there an awful lot lately. Given that Anthony Ralston is still being overlooked and we have no other right back at the club, Elhamed will most likely be deployed there should the deal get finalised.
Over all he looks like a decent utility player from the footage I’ve seen of him. Hopefully we are still pursuing a proper right back for a long term solution.
As for tonight though, Kristoffer Ajer will most likely be dropped in at right back again. That means Nir Bitton and Jozo Simunovic are the likely pairing in central defence unless Christopher Jullien is deemed fit.
Bolingoli will undoubtedly resume his role at left back with Scott Brown, Callum McGregor, James Forrest, Ryan Christie and Lewis Morgan filling the midfield. Odsonne Edouard is our top striker right now and will probably lead the line, but we could see Leigh Griffiths at some point as well.
It isn’t ideal to be playing players out of position such as Bitton and Ajer. Until we get up to full strength though, that is the position we are in.
Tonight I am confident Celtic can get the result they need, but there’s no room for complacency. Even though Neil Lennon has been here before, he will not be taking his opponents lightly home or away.