In a departure from the usual pre-match niceties, Astana chief executive, Kaisar Bekenov, did his best to send a message to Romania referee Istvan Kovacs, that he expects Celtic to try to provoke his players into getting a red card tonight.
For good measure, he informed Kazak media that all referees he spoke to about the “Griffiths incident” and everyone in Glasgow he spoke to since he arrived, told him Leigh should have been sent off. I suspect his sampling technique isn’t entirely scientific.
He’s right to be cautious about picking up red cards, they can determine the outcome of any game, but I’m sure this is an indicator of the manner in which Astana plan to play tonight. They will get ‘stuck in’, in particular to Patrick Roberts.
Roberts won’t be the first Celtic right winger to face some robust action in European football but this is all new to him, how he deals with it could be a major factor in the game.
Two other players worthy of note are Scott Brown and Leigh Griffiths. Astana will note how Scott was lured into a needless booking in the final seconds of last week’s first leg. If I was their coach, I’d send my players out to test Scott’s discipline.
Like all European strikers, Leigh will have to deal with being pulled inside the box. How he breaks free will result in scenes of drama, as Astana attempt to right the wrongs from the first leg all those Glaswegians spoke to Kaisar Bekenov about.
Celtic have the advantage of not having to chase the game, but we are likely to press forward from the off. How we defend will be crucial. Ronny Deila’s great undoing was the porous shape of his team when they lost possession in Europe. Tonight needs to be about defensive discipline above all else – and yes, that means patience.
It will be close to 3am Astana time at 90 minutes when the effects of jetlag will be greatest. The latter part of the game will be when Celtic have most advantage. Keep it tight, draw them out and finish strong, Celtic.
Well done to Dundalk in qualifying for the Champions League play-off round by eliminating BATE Borisov last night. BATE are accomplished qualifiers for the Champions League, having progresses through the champions group more than any other club since qualification reorganisation.