You and I have watched enough European qualification games to know that fitness is perhaps the biggest determinant in success. In this respect, we should be ahead of AZ Alkmaar, who have played only two competitive games comparted to Celtic’s nine.
Despite this, AZ pressed Celtic back for much of the final 15 minutes last week, an indication, perhaps, of a higher baseline.
From a fitness perspective, Celtic’s game against St Mirren could not have gone better. They sharpened the tools in the first half and no player was physically taxed to the extent that it would inhibit performance five days later.
AZ, meanwhile, got their fixture against Fortuna Sittard postponed to allow them time to prepare for Celtic. That is a big gamble. AZ need to be rested, especially as their game plan is likely to involve extra time, but two games and two defeats into their season, a home game against the side who finished 11th last term would be welcomed by others.
We have a recent reference point for taking a 2-0 first leg lead to the Netherlands. A Utrecht team who were poorer than AZ did not even need extra time to see them through. The Dutch, it seems, arrive in August fit and ready. Let’s hope AZ’s weekend off proves unhelpful.