James Forrest has been carrying an injury for 10 months, which has affected the player’s effectiveness, so, irrespective of the outcome of his neurologist visit last week, I’m working on the assumption Celtic will play Adam Matthews in front of Michael Lustig on the right. This pair have speed, enormous energy, can cross and can defend. They have the making of a promising partnership.
Dirk Boerrigter has seen only 30 minutes football this season, and that was almost a month ago, but with the lack of options in the striker role, and the memory of just how effective he was during those 30 minutes, I expect we’ll see him from the start. He would also lift the atmosphere a degree or two higher.
Emilio Izaguirre will, of course, play left back. With Emilio bombing forward it is crucial we don’t leave the left flank exposed. This is a regular habit of Celtic’s which is seldom exposed in domestic football but Spartak Moscow scored their only goal at Celtic Park last season by exploiting the acres behind Emilio.
With Anthony Stokes looking unlikely, it will probably be Georgios Samaras leading the line with Kris Commons in the free role. Some of Georgios’ best performances away from home in Europe have been up front but it’s not his best position. Kris Commons I have no worries about. He knows exactly what is required tonight. In particular, expect him to win free kicks near the box and perhaps a penalty. I’ll make no comment on what to expect if we are awarded a spot kick.
Central midfield will have Scott Brown and Joe Ledley. Watch for Joe making back post runs. We can expect marking to be tight tonight, so a late run into the box could offer our best chance of a breakthrough.
I think we can be sure we’ll not see two novice (to Celtic) central defenders again. Steven Mouyokolo, new at the club after three years of little football, was singled out for criticism in some places after last week’s defeat which was particularly unfair. Defences work as a unit and the unit in Astana was dysfunctional. Steven was no guiltier than half the team.
Efe Ambrose will play, probably with Virgil van Dijk, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see Charlie Mulgrew selected instead.
It will be close to 2am in Kazakhstan when the second half gets underway. Shakhter Karagandy players will be suffering from the effects of jetlag. Minds and bodies will be tired, leading to diminished concentration and rash decision making. Celtic players should be on the lookout to play on, and exploit, this.
Play to their vulnerability. Remove the lighting tubes from their changing room and have the heating on full blast. We’ve all been tired in a room that’s too warm, it’s not conducive for football preparation. This is an environmental advantage of playing at home. Use it.
Playing in front of a stimulating crowd might actually help Shakhter early on, but the adrenaline boost will fade, leaving tired limbs. The value of fresh legs is enormously underappreciated in football. Get subs on midway through the second half and work their defence off the ball. If we aim to have our players tired after 60 minutes, we’ll know we are on the right track, as they will be suffering a lot more.
It is not important to get an early goal, even conceding one would not be the end of the story. This is going to be a long night, stick with it.
We cannot afford to get a man sent off but there can be nothing cordial about this game. Shakhter’s manager, Victor Kumykov, sounded less sure of himself yesterday, perhaps filled with trepidation. Don’t let him or his players settle, be professional but make sure he knows he has been disrespectful to his guests, and that he is now out of his depth.
They are a long way from home, make sure they know this. There will be opportunities for friendly chat after the final whistle.
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