From Paisley to Paradise

Celtic edged past Real Sociedad at St Mirren Park last night in their final preparation match before they get down to competitive business this Wednesday. Next up is the Champions League encounter with Stjarnan but Ronny Deila got a chance to put his players through one more test with David Moyes’s La Liga side providing opposition.

This was Ronny Deila’s third preseason friendly and the first for David Moyes. However it was the Basque side who played the better football in the first half.

Celtic found themselves under pressure from Erreala as Ronny Deila’s player’s tried to get into their stride. They dealt with everything that came their way even if they struggled to find their own.

The second half was totally different. Celtic found themselves stepping up a gear and putting together better moves and chances.

Then came probably the moment most fans had tuned in for. The arrival of Nadir Çiftçi from Dundee United had mixed feelings amongst Celtic fans.

Now that he is here it’s about application and effort. He didn’t waste much time when he came on as a substitute for Leigh Griffiths in the 67th minute either.

Griffiths was unlucky not score. Having had one deflected wide in the first half and another hitting the post in the second half he was lively.

Within moments of entering the field of play though, Çiftçi was involved in an attacking move. After that one broke down he was straight in again assisting Gary Mackay-Steven for the only goal of the match.

It was enough to win the game but again it was more about preparation for Wednesday. Still the result will go along way to easing the fears of those supporters who get a wee bit upset at friendly defeats.

The positive sign was that Celtic upped their game second half after pressure from the opposition in the first. Real Sociedad’s player’s were a wee bit feisty throughout the match but that provided a little bit of realism for the competitive games ahead.

Next stop is Celtic Park and Champions League opponents Stjarnan. This is where our season begins.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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The Celtic shirt does not shrink to fit inferior players

With the signing of Nadir Çiftçi from Dundee United many fans, including myself, have been asking can he do a job in Europe? That isn’t the only question though as many consider can he do a job at all?

As far as Scotland goes, Çiftçi has shown his capabilities at Dundee United. However, he will still need to fit into the Celtic team, the training set up and style of play, something you cannot expect of every new player.

There is also the question of his aggressive nature. We’ve seen it on display and he should know, it will not be tolerated by Celtic or the fans nevermind the football authorities.

On the matter of Europe though, is it essential for a striker to be able to score goals? Of course it is but in Europe, goal scoring chances are few and far between even for the best strikers but it is about being able to make or take opportunities when they come along.

Whether it’s the Champions League or Europa League, being able to put the ball in the net is crucial because it is a small amount of games over a season. Celtic are looking at around 12 matches in total, or more if the group phase works out.

That’s six qualifying games and six group matches. In high profile games though you need your whole team to weigh in with the goals, not just the strikers.

Over the last ten seasons for Celtic, it has been hard to find a prolific goal scorer in European competition. Nothing comes close to filling the shoes of Henrik, but then you knew that.

Striker StatsTaking the number 7 shirt as he has, Çiftçi has a lot to live up to. Like any new recruit he will get his chance and my backing.

I was happy to be proven wrong about Leigh Griffiths when I questioned his arrival 18 months ago. Although he has yet to hit the mark in Europe he has demonstrated his domestic prowess.

Now he has been rewarded with the number 9 shirt. He’s changed his attitude for the club, the fans and the coaching team.

Meantime, Stefan Šćepović will be fighting to earn a place nevermind a number. He admitted to adapting to life at Celtic being hard and that’s fine.

What he needs to do now is get his head down, put the last year behind him and play the way that is expected of him because “the Celtic jersey not shrink to fit inferior players”. You can see from the table adjacent (my apologies if it is slightly inaccurate) that he is currently only one of four strikers at the club with any European goals.

Anthony Stokes has the same amount, having played far more games. You can debate whether guys like him and Maloney are actually strikers, just don’t debate it with me.

The list has most if not all of our strikers involved in European competition with Celtic these past ten seasons. It includes their appearances and goals though some such as Sutton, Hartson (who both played in the first of these last ten seasons) and Larsson stem back beyond the ten year mark obviously.

I had to include Larsson even though its more than ten years since he wore the jersey. I felt it important to include his record as a modern day player though.

Çiftçi has yet to appear on that list and it will be interesting to see where he will slot in. Griffiths and Šćepović have their work cut out for them as well.

Tonight Deila goes head to head former Bhoy, David Moyes. Ronny will be looking to prepare for the forthcoming Champions League qualifier against FC Stjarnan.

It’s unclear what kind of lineup we can expect but the coaching team will be hoping to avoid any injuries. Remember, it’s just a friendly.

So welcome to Nadir Çiftçi and of course, Belgian goalkeeper, Logan Bailly. Logan will be a welcome addition to the squad and will keep Craig Gordon on his toes and hopefully help push Leo Fasan on as well.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

Back in training, back in Iceland.

Celtic will return to Iceland next month to face Stjarnan F.C. The draw for the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League has paired Ronny Deila with Icelandic opposition for the second year running.

With neither team having faced each other before, both will be doing their homework with European football at stake. Many will feel this is a tie Celtic are more than capable of winning comfortably but Stjarnan will be using last seasons Europa League qualifiers as a base to progress.

Stjarnan F.C. overcame Bangor City, Motherwell and Lech Poznań only to exit at the hands of Celtic’s Europa League victors Inter Milan in the play off round. However, Celtic swept aside KR Reykjavík at the same stage of Champions League qualifying last season and will feel confident they can do the same to the current Icelandic champions.

The Icelandic season runs from May to September and as a result, Stjarnan have already played 8 league matches. They are currently sitting in sixth place having won 3, drawn 2, lost 2 with 10 goals for 10 goals against.

Despite winning the Úrvalsdeild title for the first time in 2014 their league form won’t be of too much interest to Celtic. It is the fact that they will have better match fitness by the time they face Ronny Deila’s side.

As for Celtic, they will be looking to be more convincing in qualifying than they were last year. Despite winning by a 5-0 aggregate score over KR Reykjavík last summer, Celtic were beaten comfortably 6-1 by Legia Warsaw in the round that followed.

It was only the incompetence of the Polish champions fielding an ineligible player that bought Celtic another crack at qualifying for the Champions League. Even that wasn’t enough, as Ronny Deila’s side lost out in the second leg at home 0-1 after completing a respectable 1-1 draw in the first leg away to Maribor.

As disappointing as that was, there was still Europa League football to be had. This was also a much more suited tournament for Celtic at this point as much as it may have been hard to admit at the time.

With a change of manager and a serious modification to the way players trained, ate and slept, the Champions League could have been a total disaster. One year on, I think both Ronny and the players are now ready to field last seasons progress against the best.

I will highlight the fact that Celtic are not the finished article and still require a handful of players to make the team a solid force. These players now have a season under their belts though and have made some headway.

We’re all desperate to hear that music again. There can be no doubt it is what the Celtic family want to be involved in every season.

The challenge is to face the best and match them on the night. Special things can happen on the Champions League nights, especially at Paradise.

A solid qualifying campaign and a few extra signings before deadline day will be most welcome. As the players were back in training today they will be thinking about that.

Before that we will have the chance to see the Bhoy’s in action against FC Den Bosch, FK Dukla Prague and Real Sociedad de Fútbol. All ties are to played at St Mirren Park whilst Celtic Park has some stadium work carried out.

The most important thing is that Celtic will be back at Paradise for any of the home legs in the qualifying rounds. Although it wasn’t the reason behind last years dismal showing, I think many would agree that they’d rather have seen Celtic stage a revival at Celtic Park than Murrayfield.

So now it is down to the Bhoy’s to get stuck in at training and get some practice in these upcoming friendlies. There’s a pot of gold waiting for the club in September but they’ll have to work hard to get there.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie