Jablonec are two games into their domestic season: a 1-0 home win on the opening day against Banik and a 3-0 away defeat to Mlada Boleslavon Saturday. Banik finished 8th last season, Mlada, 11th. Unlike Celtic, tonight’s game is their first European qualifier of the season, so we are one competitive game ahead of them.
They have a 6,100 capacity stadium in a town that’s entire population could fit inside Celtic Park with 15,000 spare seats – by any measure, the equivalent of Hamilton Accies, although Accies will doubtlessly report a higher income for last season.
So far, so encouraging. On the debit column, they finished the season five points behind Sparta, whom they were level with three games from the end. That’s the same Sparta that spanked us 4-1 home and away last year.
Like any number of teams we meet in qualification, including Midtjylland, they are weaker than us in most of the key metrics, but if we turn up unprepared, as we did last week, we will lose.
While this is the classic, no win, situation, there are things beyond the result that you and I will be looking out for. Liel Abada’s goal return so far has been impressive, even if officials incorrectly denied him at Tynecastle on Saturday. I want to see more of his timed runs into the box.
Carl Starfelt must be desperate to get his boots on. He had a nightmare debut, unlike Shane Duffy, who scored in wins in his first two Celtic games. Debuts are not great indicators of persistent form, Carl can provide evidence today.
Kyogo Furuhashi’s late cameo on Saturday was too little time to allow the player to settle into the game. I expect there will be communication challenges, but he should be as fit as anyone in the squad, so should be ready.
More than anything, I want to see Joe Hart organise a Celtic defence. Without a massive improvement in this aspect of our play, progress elsewhere is futile.