Celtic gave their European campaign a shot in the arm with a 2-0 win over AIK last Thursday at Celtic Park. The performance and scoreline was positive and though it didn’t kill off the tie, it was a decent first leg.
Having brushed aside Hearts at the weekend (with the aid of two own goals) Neil Lennon has maintained a 100% domestic record before taking his players to Stockholm for the final hurdle that can secure European football until Christmas. The Europa League play off tie is far from over and it is merely half time between both clubs.
The stakes are high because whilst the Europa League may not be as prestigious as the Champions League, European football is what we live for every season. I’ll take Thursday night European ties over no European football at all.
Reaching the group stage will allow Celtic to pit themselves against better opposition than they play most weekends. Last season they faced Salzburg, Leipzig and Rosenborg in the group phase of the same tournament and finished second.
That allowed them to make the last 32 and if we get passed AIK on Thursday that has to be the minimum we are aiming for. Celtic lost out to Valencia in the knock out stage 3-0 on aggregate but it would be good if we could get beyond that stage.
However, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. We need only think about the game in Stockholm.
AIK have played more than twenty games so far in their domestic season. They are at peak fitness and even though this is Celtic’s twelfth competitive game of the season, they are still way behind their Swedish counterparts who have played around thirty competitive games in their current season.
Celtic will be looking to score in Sweden, but knowing that AIK have to score themselves, they may allow the Swedish Champions to play a bit and hit them on the counter. AIK certainly parked the bus last week, but they will have to be more adventurous if they hope to claw themselves back into this tie.
That could play in to Celtic’s hands who have plenty of runners who can open up a defence that may be more keen to break than sit back. Unless of course AIK go for the long ball game seen last week which also played into Celtic’s hands.
Celtic don’t have home advantage but it is advantage Celtic. As I said after the second leg against Cluj, mistakes are costly at the highest level.
The Europa League may be the second string European tournament, but it is our last throw of the dice. Let’s not throw that away.
Should Celtic avoid any catastrophe’s this evening, we stand a better chance of further signings before the transfer windows shuts. Yesterday we signed Moritz Bauer on loan from Stoke City.
Some fans have baulked at this as he is out of favour with the Championship side. However, he impressed when he arrived at the then Premier League club in a six month spell and earned a five year contract despite the club being relegated.
It is understood we have an option to buy should this loan work out. I would imagine the same could occur for Fraser Forster if has a successful loan spell.
The second time Celt is about five years younger than Craig Gordon and both keepers will have a decision to make at the end of this season. Gordon’s contract will expire at the end of May and Forster’s loan will expire at the end of June.
Last season, Scott Bain shared the space between the sticks with Craig Gordon. Bain played in 32 matches whilst Gordon played in 31.
Neil Lennon is still in pursuit of other players though. Another left back is a priority and whilst rumours continue about midfielders and attackers coming on board, Celtic will also need to off load a few on loan or for sale if they are not going to get near the first team.
Once this AIK match has been settled I would imagine we’ll have a better idea of where things are going. Stockholm or bust!