The gauntlet

The international break offered Celtic a chance to regroup before facing the final run of games in 2015. Despite many of Ronny Deila’s players not actually being on international duty, namely the Scottish contingent, they were held to a 0-0 draw at Celtic Park by Kilmarnock when domestic matter got under way once more at the weekend.

Frustrating as that was, Celtic have still maintained their six point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership. Hearts and Aberdeen also drew their matches which allowed fourth placed St Johnstone to close the gap on Aberdeen to 3 points, 10 behind Celtic.

There is a more pressing matter for Celtic to to contend with though. It takes place tomorrow night at Celtic Park on the Europa League stage.

Ajax visit Glasgow for the penultimate Group A fixture. The result of this match will have a big say on whether Celtic still have a chance to progress or if the remaining fixture against Fenerbahçe is a dead rubber.

Celtic drew with Ajax in Amsterdam two months ago. Having succumbed to a late equaliser after leading the match twice, I think most would say that we reasonably upbeat about how the rest of the campaign would go.

How wrong we were. Another draw, this time at home to Fenerbahçe and two straight defeats against Molde have hurt our campaign and any morale we had left.

On Thursday win for Celtic is essential. Victory would put Celtic on 5 points and if Molde can muster another win, Ronny Deila would be in with a fighting chance of progressing.

Unfortunately for Celtic, this has been a lacklustre European campaign littered with defensive mishaps and tactical naivety. So called average clubs have been wiping the floor with Celtic for two years now and as yet we have still to see any progress from last season.

Having made the last 32 against Inter Milan earlier this year, the desire was to build upon that experience. That hasn’t happened this season and the best we can hope for is equalling that but it remains a a difficult task.

Two wins would put Celtic through for sure but having failed to notch up a single win so far, there are no guarantees the team will finally click now. They are 6 points short of earning the 8 points that got them through in second spot last season and in order to qualify it will likely take the same amount this time around.

There is a spark missing from this team right now but there are players in the squad who have the ability to deliver. We just haven’t seen it or at least not enough of it.

Among the bright sparks this season have been Griffiths, Bitton, Rogić, Tierney and at times Forrest. We need to see everyone else doing the same though and those who aren’t performing, dropped.

If Ronny Deila is to salvage any hopes of a dismal European campaign he will need to need motivate his squad, make the right selection of players and tactics and adapt within the game. It’s not too late but he to rectify a lot before we kick off tomorrow night.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Commons sense

So far this season, the Champions League has not been an easy ride for English clubs. With all of match day two fixtures of the competition done, there will be more relief than joy, particularly down Manchester way.

Despite both Mancunian clubs obtaining wins last night, they both lost their opening Champions League matches. Although they got their first points on the board last night, these were narrow victories.

Elsewhere, Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea were overcome by his former club Porto. It’s a similar story to City and United with one win and one defeat so far.

Worst still is Arsenal’s campaign. After two games they have yet to get any points on the board.

What I find staggering is that all these clubs have excellent funding but star signings don’t always seem to buy them success. Is there some sort of complacency amongst the Premier League’s super clubs in Europe or are they just badly managed?

Anything Celtic can do in Europe I hold in high esteem because it is generally a bloody hard task. Celtic may be above all other Scottish clubs but in Europe it’s a different ball game.

Any club that wins their domestic league should go straight into the Champions League, end of story. Unfortunately there are more represented countries than places in the current set up but I do think this competition requires serious revision.

The Champions League continually undermines the smaller teams and leagues whilst ensuring the bigger clubs with more than sufficient funds stay on top. Celtic, whilst having a reasonable reputation in European competition, are well short of the income to compete at the top and hindered even more by going through three qualifying rounds just to get into a group phase every summer.

And yet, Celtic continue to “punch above” their weight as Martin O’Neill once said. That has continued with the managers that succeeded him.

For Ronny Deila it is still coming together. Though despite two failed attempts at entering the Champions League, he has ensured Europa League status for two years running.

We shouldn’t sniff at that. It doesn’t have the glory of the Champions League, but the tournament should still be treated with respect.

Celtic got off to a flyer two weeks ago with a near victory. That draw in Amsterdam got us our first point away from home.

When you consider points on the road are not always guaranteed, that’s a damn good start. Tonight, Fenerbahçe will be a different prospect.

Whilst playing at home in front of your own audience has its advantages, Fenerbahçe are a different opponent. They lost their opening Europa League match a staggering 3-1 at home to Molde.

Turkey is renowned for its hostile atmosphere at matches. You might have read one or two opposing players from tonight’s match stating as much.

The Norwegians didn’t appear to be too intimidated though. So credit to them for axing the Turkish runners up and their team of ‘stars’.

Amongst those plying their trade in Istanbul are former Manchester United players Robin van Persie and Nani. Both have a wealth of experience on the European stage but it doesn’t stop there.

Their team also boast international players such as Raul Meireles, Bruno Alves, former Celtic target Michal Kadlec and Simon Kjær who all have between 50 and 99 caps each. That’s without mentioning the the home grown Turkish players, four Brazilians and a Senegalese international on-loan from Porto.

One on-loan player who will miss out tonight is Serbian, Lazar Marković. The Liverpool winger is out injured but as you can see, the Turkish side have plenty to choose from.

For Ronny Deila, it’s about creating the right blend again. We have a lot of players to choose from but it is about being effective.

With home advantage, he is likely to be more adventurous. However, caution needs to be paid to the experienced players amongst the Fenerbahçe ranks.

Their European and international careers are to be respected. This will be no easy task.

One area Deila needs to consider is who fills in for the suspended Emilio Izaguirre at left back. He has several options but it all depends on how defensive or offensive he wants that role to be.

Kieran Tierney has been getting some game time lately and done well when called upon. However, Deila may feel throwing him into his first European match is a tad risky.

Saidy Janko is another option but he too has yet to play in Europe. So it is likely that he will go with Tyler Blackett given that he has more senior experience over all and has played in one Europa League match already.

The rest of the defence is likely to consist of Lustig, Ambrose and Boyata with Gordon in goal as usual. Šimunović is a doubt for this match and with Mulgrew out injured the defence has more or less picked itself.

Brown and Bitton are certain to start this one but who do you surround them with? A few players have been off the boil recently such as Johansen and Mackay-Steven.

Forrest could be given the chance to turn on the home crowd on the right and if Armstrong is fit a place on the left. That leaves the attacking midfield role.

With Johansen off the boil I think we would all agree Commons is the man for this game. He’s earned his chance and could light things up tonight.

You have to feel sorry for Rogić though. He’s likely to be on the bench for this one but he has been superb this season so far so I expect an appearance at some stage.

The strikers role should go to Griffiths as he is our best option. You can probably expect Çiftçi to be given a chance against the Turkish side at some point though.

Elsewhere in the Europa League Spurs are away to Monaco whilst Liverpool are at home to FC Sion (remember them?). I’m sure with two English heavy weights in the same competition Celtic coverage will be kept to a minimum but with maximum criticism.

Celtic made a good start against Ajax. Let’s hope we see that continue tonight at Paradise.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac