Maribor are currently playing monopoly with the Slovenian league, having won four titles in a row, and have a very settled, experienced, team.
The season before they eliminated Rangers into oblivion in 2011 they defeated Hibernian home and away, who had Anthony Stokes in their side. It’s worth noting that Edinburgh police arrested 30 Maribor fans following a riot in the city after that tie; this lot have an unfortunate reputation for trouble.
They lost away on Saturday, a defeat which was largely a consequence of their defence having a nightmare, however, among others, they rested key central defender, Marko Suler, who Celtic came close to signing four years ago. They were also reduced to 10 men 30 minutes into the game. It’s unlikely they will be so poor at the back against Celtic.
Dare Vrsoc is their creative fulcrum. He also likes to shoot from distance, with some justification. Whoever in the Celtic team is tasked with winning a personal battle with him will have a great deal of responsibility.
If Celtic leave space at the back Mitja Viler will be the player most likely to exploit. He is lightning fast and will have noticed how Celtic lost goals to pace against Legia. The early scare Gary Mackay-Steven gave us on Saturday further emphasises this vulnerability.
Brazilian-Slovenian striker Marcos Tavares, 30, is Maribor’s royalty. He has scored more goals than anyone in the club’s history, but he is a player who has found his level. He has been over the European football course before so will know how to unsettle defenders.
Macedonian international winger, Agim Ibraimi, scored the goals in the last round which got Maribor this far. He had a couple of unsuccessful seasons in Seria A before returning to Maribor. Good player with tendencies to lunacy.
The fans boo boy is goalkeeper, Jasmin Handanovic, who remains in place despite a disastrous last season. Slovenian clubs throw cross balls into the box to put pressure on him as often as possible. Some early attention might turn the atmosphere inside the stadium on Wednesday.
They score a lot of goals from headers: five of the 12 this season, before the o.g. they benefited from on Saturday.
Our man Blaz in Slovenia tells me they are better than they were when they brought the end of days to Rangers in 2011. Last season’s Europa League campaign, when they progressed from a group containing Russian, English and Belgian opposition, before giving eventual winners, Sevilla a fright, gives an indication of what we can expect.
After those performances last season they knew this could be their Champions League year. Drawing Celtic has put them in a state approaching over-confidence. A shift like we delivered on Saturday will come as a shock.[calameo code=000390171ae033f39a0c4 lang=en page=120 hidelinks=1 width=100% height=500]