Posted on Monday, 3rd December 2012 by admin
Our build-up to the Celtic-Spartak game begins with a preview of the game by Kieran Caw.
Only time will tell for Neil Lennon’s men. The decision is now out of Celtic’s hands following a deserved 2-1 defeat in Lisbon against Portuguese side Benfica. For Celtic to further advance to the latter stages of the Champions League they have to better Benfica’s result, who are up against Barcelona on match day six. Simple, right? Wrong. The task Celtic will face is undoubtedly massive on December 5th as they will come up against Spartak Moscow in what will be our biggest game in years, but can we handle the pressure?
Yes, Barcelona did lose in Glasgow a few weeks ago and, yes, Benfica could only manage a draw on the first Group Stage match, however, the toughest mission for Celtic’s young and inexperienced squad will arrive when Valery Karpin’s men come calling.
Celtic may well be favourites for this match with Spartak Moscow sacking their former manager, Unai Emery, after only six months in the job as a result of a 5-1 defeat at the hands of city rivals Dynamo Moscow. As well as the change of managers, Spartak currently sit a lowly seventh place in the Russian Premier League and have an important league game the weekend after our match, against Rubin Kazan. Last weekend finished in another hammering for Spartak, this time a 4-2 defeat at the hands of second placed Zenit. Karpin’s squad lack of discipline shone through in that defeat with another two men sent for an early bath.
My analysis of their most recent match resulted in highlighting the fact that Spartak’s defence are very uncomfortable with balls over the top, in behind them – along with defending shakily at corners. The goalkeeper, Andriy Dykan, is unquestionably the weakest link in their side, emphasised by howlers he made during their 4-2 defeat. One thing is for sure, this is a game in which I would be encouraging Kris Commons to shoot from distance.
Neil Lennon and his squad have proved the majority of doubters wrong in this tournament as most predicted Celtic to be whipping boys of the group, and stand out players such as Fraser Forster and Victor Wanyama have received wide spread praise from the whole of Europe. Also, the most historic moment in our recent history reached by winning against arguably the best side to ever play football has not gone unnoticed around the footballing world. There are no two ways about it – Spartak Moscow will fear Celtic, but will Celtic be able to rise to this massive occasion in just a few days? The beating of Spanish giants Barcelona suggest so, but our defensive performance which led to a defeat against Benfica suggest otherwise – backed up by our abysmal league displays at home in the month of November. If Celtic sit back and play in the same style against Spartak as they did in previous matches, they will set themselves up for a major fall. We need goals. We need to win. A defeat would automatically mean no Champions League football post-Christmas, no matter what the outcome may be in Benfica’s matchup in the Nou Camp. This outcome would be far from a disaster although, admittedly, the Europa League will feel like a very underwhelming achievement given what this team has produced so far.
For Celtic, the major blow is of course Victor Wanyama being suspended for Wednesday’s contest. He has been pivotal in our success to date in the Champions League, and his presence on and off the ball will clearly be missed. One of the many positives Celtic acquire is that Emilio Izaguirre will be likely to pass fit for the Spartak match – a massive boost for our squad as Adam Matthews, who has filled in well, can return to his favoured position it Lennon wishes to start him ahead of in-form Swede, Mikael Lustig. The decision to delay Scott Brown’s hip surgery could turn out to be a genius decision, or one that scuppers our chances of advancing in the competition. Brown’s energy is destined to give the team that extra spark in the middle of the park, but he may not be able to play to the best of his ability due to this recurring injury – which could have a negative impact on our group of players.
Celtic have proven over the years that anything is possible inside our magnificent stadium with triumphs over teams such as Juventus, AC Milan, Manchester United and Barcelona, which surely gives the supporters, if not players hope. The chances of progression hang in the balance, it is almost impossible to predict. Barcelona may field a weakened team they have already qualified (although I doubt it), Spartak have nothing to lose and will certainly play for pride, Celtic may collapse under pressure and Benfica may just cause another upset – similar to Celtic’s.
The message Lennon should send out to his players on the 5th of December must be “Attack, attack, attack.” That is what we are best at. Celtic must control the game, something we have failed to do so far in the competition. We must stop Spartak Moscow from scoring, a feat we have only managed once in the Group Stages thus far. There are many mountains for Celtic still to climb in order to reach the knockout phase of Europe’s most prestigious competition, but it is not an impossible task. Benfica are unlikely to beat Barcelona in the Nou Camp on the same night Celtic face Spartak, so presumably a win, or even a draw would see Celtic through. That being said, a Barcelona win should not be taken for granted by any member of the Celtic team, as they have a first hand experience of knowing how to cause a great upset against that very side. Jorge Jesus will have his men fired up for Benfica’s trip to Spain, as it could possibly end up a ‘must win’ tie, and that is another reason why Celtic should not pay for anything less than a win because if both sides draw, Celtic will drop down into the less-glamorous Europa League.
So, it remains to be seen if Neil Lennon’s maturing squad will progress to the next stage, but already the success achieved has been enormous taking all circumstances into account, and they can only take pride from this enthralling journey. Looking on the bright side, booking a place in the Europa League last 32 is not an embarrassment by any means, and you never know – Celtic could go on to surprise time after time in the Europa League as they continue to do in the Champions League. Neil Lennon has transformed a team incapable of beating Ross County in the Scottish Cup to competing against the best in Europe’s top club competition. A truly remarkable turnaround which has earned Lennon and the team respect around the world. We can only hope the results turn in Celtic’s favour on another potentially historic night in December.
How Celtic will line up for this tie is almost impossible to call. My personal choice would be a 4-4-1-1 formation of:
Forster; Lustig, Ambrose, Wilson, Mulgrew; Commons, Brown, Kayal, Ledley; Samaras; Hooper.
If necessary, Lennon could call on players such as Lassad, Miku and Watt to change the game if need be.
With Emilio just coming back from injury, it would a slight risk to play him from the start so Mulgew should provide solidity at the back, as well as his deadly set-piece deliveries into the box when attacking.
Gary Hooper is a controversial pick, as I do not believe he is made for these type of games. If we expect to be on the back foot for most of the game, having Hooper on the park would be like playing with ten men, but as he is a great ‘poacher’ and scored against Spartak in the previous meeting, I have opted for Hooper to lead our attack backed by the experienced Georgios Samaras. The rest of our side all-but picks itself.
So, will Celtic progress?
You can follow the author on Twitter: @Kieran_Celtic