Back in the old days of the Uefa Away Goals Rule, a 2-0 win in the first leg at home had an 80% success rate at proceeding in the competition. Away goals added a jeopardy for the loser in this situation, they need to score twice but conceding once meant they would have to score four, so they could not be too gung-ho.
AZ have no such worries tonight, they can pile forward knowing they need three goals to win or the same to take the game into extra time, should they concede one. We go into the game knowing they will have lots of the ball and territorial advantage.
In all honesty, I don’t think we are anything close to an 80% chance of proceeding, more like 60%. AZ created enough good chances at Celtic Park to suggest they can find ways beyond our defensive lines. What will worry the home side is how prolific our forwards look.
European football is significantly about game management, especially this early in the season. Think back to Neil Lennon’s first season, when he took a 2-0 to Utrecht. That lead was wiped out within 20 minutes before a total collapse.
Think also about Brendan Rodgers first qualification campaign. Having won the first leg against Hapoel Be’er Sheva 5-2, the Israelis went 2-0 up three minutes into the second half – within a goal of going ahead in the tie. Brendan used all three substitutes by 65 minutes and went a touch catenaccio until full time. When the roof collapses, it is all about how you respond.
However the game progresses, Celtic’s match fitness should be better heading into the closing stages, or extra time, if it comes. We need to be ready with a strategy for these periods of the game.