The Winning Combination

In a season which has left many Celtic supporters shaking their heads and venting their spleen, tonight could see the club secure a last sixteen place in the Europa League. It’s been a bumpy ride for Ronny Deila but there has also been some recent progress as well.

When you consider that a large portion of fans were calling for the head of the Norwegian coach between September and October, you would think that all was lost. In reality, all Ronny Deila is guilty of is trying to forge a team of his own during a period of transition which to date sees Celtic playing in four competitions.

The club exited the Champions League qualifier’s twice but secured a group stage place in Europe’s second string club competition. As much of a disappointment as that may have been on an entertainment and financial level for all concerned, Celtic escaped what might have been a potential six game slaughter.

Instead, the Europa League has offered a “safe haven” of sorts for Ronny Deila and some of his players to cut their teeth in a group phase without losing too much face. The lower profile has drawn less attention, but provides a sufficient challenge to test your squad.

Celtic have faired well against opposition who at this moment in time are no better or worse. Astra Giurgiu have turned out to be the group’s whipping boys though it didn’t prevent  Celtic from handing them their first point in the group phase.

With that in mind, it wouldn’t surprise me if they got something off Dinamo Zagreb tonight. European football is a funny game and your luck can change very quickly.

Tonight Celtic and FC Salzburg go head to head at Celtic Park. Both teams have seen their domestic fortunes change since their last meeting so this evenings result will not only help decide who is favourite to win the group, but who has improved since mid September.

In that last tie it was 2-2 and I was pretty pleased with the result. Celtic weren’t top of their game or the league and the same can be said of FC Salzburg at the time.

Celtic are far from the finished article but have improved as have Salzburg. Both teams go into tonights match as domestic league leaders.

The main worry Ronny Deila might have tonight is team selection. With some players out and some doubts, getting the right blend from the start must allow room for change later in the match.

Primary hitman John Guidetti is ineligible and by far Deila’s most potent goal threat. Stefan Scepovic and Leigh Griffiths are the alternatives though both have a combined lack of appearances, form and goals.

So it could well be fans favourite Kris Commons to provide for Celtic this evening. Despite his uncertain future at the club he’s remains a key goal threat.

His European goal tally may pale in comparison to his domestic one for Celtic (5 European, 53 domestic) but he can conjur something out of nothing. In game like tonight’s, it could be his particular ability that could decide this match and indeed Celtic’s European destiny.

As much as goals scored are important, Celtic will also need to be vigilant in defence. Doubt remains over Jason Denayer and with Mikael Lustig already out, that could mean playing Efe Ambrose.

I don’t have to say how much that scares me. Ronny could decide to play Charlie Mulgrew in defence but he hasn’t played their regularly for a long time.

So for this bhoy I’d pack that midfield to protect the defence and allow Commons or Johansen to make those forward runs.

Anthony Stokes on the left and James Forrest on the right would be my preference. In the middle of the park it will all come down to who is available come kick off.

Deila has Scott Brown, Stefan Johansen, Kris Commons and Beram Kayal to choose from. If he doesn’t have to use Charlie Mulgrew at the back he will also be in contention.

Stefan Scepovic may get the nod over Griffiths but for me the latter is the bigger goal threat. Whoever he goes with they will need service and in these games that can be in short supply.

Its a huge game for Celtic, Ronny Deila and player’s like Commons and Scepovic. Let’s hope its a memorable one.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

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Celtic must keep it simple.

Tonight’s match in Romania will be a tough test for Celtic. FC Astra have yet to score a point in Group D of the Europa League, but with key players out for Celtic, Ronny Deila will have to dig deep for a draw, let alone a win.

Take nothing away from Celtic these past couple of weeks they have found some form. Last Saturday they exorcised the demon of winning more than three games in a row by beating Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

Celtic took full advantage of home fixtures by winning four matches in a row at Celtic Park. It is a good period for the players as they are beginning to gel but tonight, some of those players are unavailable.

John Guidetti is of course ineligible for this phase of the tournament. Kris Commons is on the sidelines as is long term injury concern, Jams Forrest.

As late as leaving Glasgow Airport, Anthony Stokes was left behind due to illness. He like most of his team mates have found a bit of form of late, his being out on the left flank.

In terms of goal keeping, defence and midfield, Celtic should be okay. The concern for me is where the goals are going to come from.

Leigh Griffiths weighed in recently with a double against Partick Thistle. His only issue is whether he gets picked or not.

The main responsibility comes from Stefan Šćepović. He got off the mark recently and has looked hungrier, but he didn’t start at the weekend.

It may well be Ronny Deila was resting him and keeping him focussed on this match in Romania. With a further two games to follow in the group stage, this group is far from over but it is a good opportunity to notch up an away win.

After half of the games played, FC Astra are currently the whipping boys of Group D and Celtic will not want to be the first opponent to give them points. This group is still wide open so picking up maximum points in Romania tonight will go a long way to helping Celtic qualify for the last sixteen.

This is only FC Astra’s second home tie in the round. Having been narrowly beaten 2-1 by Salzburg in their first home match, they will be looking for something out of this game.

Celtic won the first game over the Romanians 2-1 at Celtic Park. They received a scare late in the game when Enache scored in the 81st minute, but Celtic held on.

Tonight Celtic must be more clinical in attack and switched on in defence, particularly towards the end of the game. Celtic have not won an away game in Europe since they beat KR Reykjavik and tonight may be their best chance in this group.

The line-up for this game is important so it will be interesting to see how Ronny Deila sets up this evening. Celtic don’t need to do anything radical for this match, just keep it simple.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Are Celtic beginning to click?

Celtic took to the Highlands on Saturday in search of a win. They put on a solid display and routed Ross County 5-0 as result of their efforts.

It’s fair to say that Ross County weren’t at there best. Celtic on the other hand were ruthless.

The passing was neat and tidy, the tackles solid and the opportunities were plentiful. Celtic looked dangerous in attack and there was a sense that something has finally clicked.

Ross County might be rock bottom of the Premiership, but even Celtic have the ability to look a gift horse in the mouth. It just so happens that they didn’t on this occasion.

If Celtic can continue with these type of displays then I’m certain Ronny Deila will win over his doubters amongst the support. He said during the summer that a year from now, the fans would see a totally different team.

I think what he was driving at when he said that was more than just about a team of his own players. For me it was a signal of radical change.

Celtic have invested in a young manager with fresh, modern ideas. There’s an element of risk in this but what Ronny Deila is putting in place now should benefit the club in the long term.

Much has been made of Deila’s philosophy about players being 24hr athletes. There’s been criticism, not by players, but by the media and sections of our support.

Its been highlighted predominantly due to inconsistent form. If results had been better for Celtic earlier in the season, I doubt people would be dissecting Deila’s coaching.

Should Celtic hit a bit of form now, it will be interesting to see what people have to say about Ronny Deila’s methods. There’s still a long way to go and much more work required I’m sure, but Saturday’s result against Ross County was a sound victory laced with positive individual performances.

Stefan Johansen was a standout performer. So far this season he’s looked well off the pace but on Saturday he looked more like the player we saw under Neil Lennon.

Anthony Stokes had a fine game as well, bagging two great goals into the bargain. Having found new life out on the left flank, his presence in the team looks more beneficial than when deployed up front.

John Guidetti also seems to be settling in nicely. I like this guy a lot and reckon he could be huge for Celtic.

Its a shame he can’t play in the Europa League because he could do with his presence and goals. Instead, he will have to make way for Stefan Scepovic.

The Serbian hasn’t settled as quickly as fellow striker, Guidetti. Goals have eluded Scepovic in the first team but he did bag one last week in the development side.

His substitute appearance on Saturday didn’t show any signs of progress though. At the moment he looks like he has a touch of the Pukki’s.

There’s a cloud hanging over this guy and he needs to exorcise whatever is affecting his performance. Thursday night would be a good time for him to step up and prove himself.

Its the first of four home fixtures for Celtic and this one against FC Astra is important. A winning double header, home and away, over the Romanian club would be a huge boost for progessing in the Europa League.

Should Celtic qualify for the last sixteen, Guidetti is sure to be installed as first choice striker. So Scepovic should make every effort now, whilst Guidetti is ineligible, to ensure he stays in contention.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie