Since winning at top of the table Gothenburg on 12 April, Malmo have played 9 away games. They beat Lithuanians, Zalgiris, their first Champions League opponents and won at 8th placed Gelfe, but they could only manage draws away to 13th Falkenberg, 15th, Orebro and 16th (bottom) Atvidaberg.
They lost away to 8th placed Gelfe, 11th placed Kalmar, and Salzburg in the previous Champions League qualifying round. They think they can perform miracles at home, but confidence and form on the road is at rock bottom. One away win in over four months of domestic football is nothing short of a crisis for the defending champions – and they play through the summer in Sweden.
Not only that, but they are without two suspended players on Wednesday. Midfielder, Enoch Kofi was ordered off against Salzburg but Malmo’s biggest worry is the suspension to talismanic striker, Markus Rosenberg.
Rosenberg, 32, re-joined Malmo last year after a career which took him to Ajax, Werder Bremen, Racing Santander and West Brom. He’s scored in each of his last three outings, including one against Salzburg and one against Gothenburg. It’s no understatement to say there is real anxiety at his absence. Rosenberg’s form has masked a fragility which only a month ago brought innuendo from the coach, Age Hareide, and chairman, Hakan Jeppsson. The latter claiming the total value of the team was less than its constituent parts, with Hareide making oblique comments about where his players’ thoughts lie.
The more I learn about them, Malmo sound like they could crack under some sustained Celtic Park pressure.
They know lots about Celtic and, with form and suspensions, they will come to mix it physically and plan to break with pace in the hope of snatching a goal. Such is the difference in their home and away form (the have won their last four home games, scoring 10 and conceding only once), a two goal defeat tomorrow night would be viewed with encouragement in Sweden.
Malmo are aware of Celtic’s threat in the air, specifically from set-pieces. They will deploy three central defenders in a back five, in an attempt to subvert the way Qarabag and Inverness were overcome at Celtic Park recently. One of the central defenders is certain to be Kari Arnason, 32, who left Aberdeen after a single season three years ago, on a free to then-League Two Rotherham.
This, together with a desire to break with pace, will be the essence of their game plan. They expect Nadir Ciftci to lead the line. If he does, the biggest part of his evening may be to occupy a clutch of defenders, creating space for others to exploit.
Kalmar have won only twice since beating Malmo in May. Jo Inge Berget opened the scoring for Malmo in the 11th minute, but the champions collapsed late on, under pressure from Kalmar and their 7,800 fans.
We’ve faced Swedish champions twice in the last four years. Kris Commons scored the first goal in each of the ties. The script is written, Celtic.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about Hareide’s belief that the threat from Celtic comes mostly from the stands, not from the players……..
You’ll have noticed it’s back to school week. There will be a collection of old/used backpacks and school bags for Mary’s Meals to take to Malawi, outside Celtic Park, before the St Johnstone game on 29 August. If you have any lying around, hold onto them and bring them to the game, I’ll remind you closer to the time.
We have another bumblebee top to give away, courtesy of Magners. Competition will start and end tomorrow, so look out for it!