There’s been a palpable sense of relief among all of us since Leigh Griffiths scored in Astana last midweek, but as Wednesday’s second leg draws nearer, the reality that our Champions League hopes are very much on the line is dawning.
Astana’s natural game in Europe is to defend and play on the break. They kept a clear sheet in Vilnius in the last round and conceded only twice on the road in last season’s three away qualifiers against Maribor, HJK Helsinki and APOEL Nicosia – decent qualifier opponents by any measure.
They will put two men on both Patrick Roberts and Leigh Griffiths, and sit deep, hoping to draw Celtic into leaving space at the back. This is the exact scenario we lost out to otherwise inferior teams in Europe over the last two seasons. We enjoyed possession and territorial advantage (home and away) but were ripped open on the break.
Progress to the playoff round will be all about how well we defend.
The bulk of tomorrow’s training session should be set aside for the practice of penalty kicks. Celtic lose far too many penalty competitions, and despite legacy notions which persist in British football, penalties can be practiced. 10 players should hit at least 10 penalties each.
Dreadful news that Tommy Gemmell was hospitalised over the weekend. He’s been a great friend to CQN in recent years and I know we all send him our best wishes.