The Celtic Roadshow

Celtic will face KR Reykjavik in the Second Qualifying round of the Champions League. After today’s draw in Nyon, Ronny Deila discovered who he will be up against in first competitive game in charge of Celtic.

In between now and then, he and assistant John Collins will be preparing the squad for that first of six possible matches that they would need to overcome in order to emulate those achievements of Celtic’s past two seasons in Europe. The Champions League group phase is undoubtedly the aim for the club but it will be a stern test for the management team at their first attempt.

The Icelandic champions aren’t the worst selection but also not to be taken lightly. KR Reykjavik have been involved in the qualifying rounds for European competition consecutively the for the past five seasons.

However, they have never made it past the Second qualifying round of the Champions League or Third qualifying round of the Europa League. Their conqueror’s in those last five attempts coming in the form of FC Basel, FC Karpaty Lviv, FC Dinamo Tbilisi, HJK Helsinki (who Celtic later beat) and last season Standard Liege.

These losses should not be overlooked or underestimated. Even though Celtic are deemed a bigger club by history, experience and size its all about doing your home work and getting it right on the day.

Last season was by no means a convincing path to the group phase for Neil Lennon. There is nothing to suggest this will be any easier particularly that Deila will be using the same group of players as Neil Lennon did, minus Joe Ledley, Georgios Samaras and Kelvin Wilson.

On the subject players, one man Celtic will face is former youth hopeful, Kjartan Finnbogason. He was recruited by Celtic as a highly rated 18 year old but in his time at the club he never featured in a first team game.

He endured injury and loan spells during a three year spell before seeking opportunities away from Celtic. Having scored 31 goals in 67 matches for KR Reykjavik, he’ll be looking to prove a point against Celtic.

Preparations will be begin on the training ground for Celtic and decisions will be made on who take up key roles in defence, midfield and attack. There will be friendlies against Russian team FK Krasnodar, Rapid Vienna and LSK Linz of Austria and Dukla Prague of the Czech Republic to help make those decisions as well as a friendly against Dynamo Dresden in between first and second leg of the Second Qualifying round.

Although Celtic will play these friendlies on away or neutral territory, they will not play their first competitive match at Celtic Park, despite the home tie being first. With Paradise being used for the Commonwealth Games, Murrayfield will be home for Celtic’s first Champions League qualifying match.

Should Celtic advance from that round, it is likely that the home leg of the Third Qualifying round will also be played at Murrayfield. The closing ceremony for the Commonwealth Games is on Saturday 3rd August and it will take a while to prepare it for football once again.

So Celtic will remain nomadic until mid-August. With European football on the menu, it may even work in the Ronny and Johnny’s favour.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

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A difference of opinion

I started writing this on my way to work yesterday. Once I got there, I read a few Celtic headlines and decided to postpone writing the blog.

When I read Neil Lennon’s post match praise of the team I thought I had been watching a different game altogether. Either that or I must have been more drunk than the hangover suggested.

To confuse matters further, Johan Mjallby was later quoted as saying the team were “utterly abysmal”. He did reserve some praise for the central defence though.

With Kelvin Wilson’s suggested departure, perhaps neither coach wanted to jinx the transfer. That deal has now gone through of course and this will all become confined to history.

The fact is that I, amongst others, felt that this was a poor Celtic performance. We may have progressed but it was a far from convincing ninety-plus minutes.

There was a time when progression in Europe was a distant memory for Celtic. Nowadays, the club find themselves in a situation where Europe is the lifeblood of every season.

Wednesday nights 0-0 against Elfsborg took us into this mornings draw for a play off spot. Now Celtic will face Kazakh side Shakhter Karagandy for a place in the Champions League group stage.

I am pleased that Celtic have made it through to the play offs. The match that finally got us there was anything but pretty though.

Samaras had a golden opportunity early on and Ledley even looked like scoring. At no time did I ever think the team looked comfortable though.

The Celtic midfield were ‘passing’ the ball like a hot potato. Misplaced passes are Celtic of old, not today.

As much as Johan and Neil praised the defence I only felt that one of these players deserved it. Mikael Lustig turned in a great performance in defence and attack down the right flank.

Elsewhere in defence it appeared that the players were all over the place. So it was anything but assured at the back.

Elfsborg were nothing special, but anytime they attacked the Celtic Iooked like they had never played together. That was my major concern.

I’m certain that Neil was trying to keep his comments positive given that the team had just progressed to the next phase. It is the managers job at the end of the day.

As I say though, I am just glad Celtic are through. It may not be the group phase, but I expect more players to come in now that we’re in a safety zone.

We’ve just seen off Wilson, our most improved player last season, so there will need to be a replacement for him now. With any luck Celtic will go for that much awaited striker as well.

Regardless of the coaching staff’s mixed opinions, it would be ridiculous to ignore the performance in Borås. Elfsborg remain unbeaten at home in two years but it is Celtic who are in the Champions League play offs.

The Europa League is guaranteed for the loser. Some may think Celtic will see this one out no problem but I like to keep things realistic.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie