One week tomorrow we are in Europa League action at home to Zenit St Petersburg , the Russians first competitive game since going into winter shutdown on 11 December.
Zenit have played five friendlies in the last three weeks, conformably beating Danish, Czech and Chinese opposition, all of who were also on a winter break, before drawing 0-0 with Slovan Bratislava on Sunday. The Slovaks are two weeks away from returning to competitive action.
Zenit manager, Roberto Mancini, did very little squad rotation during his five warm-up games, clearly with an eye on getting his starting 11 ready to face Celtic. He also stuck to a narrow 4-2-2-1-1 system in each game.
Zenit use this formation semi-regularly, but its repetition in each of the friendly games suggest Mancini sees winning control of the middle of the park against Celtic as a priority. This will present Celtic with problems and opportunities. We are unlikely to control as much of the ball as you would expect at home in Europe, but our strength in the wings presents Brendan Rodgers with a clear strategy.
I don’t believe in reading too much into the results of friendly games, but I hope Celtic scouts took in the Slovan game. Zenit scored 15 goals in their three proceeding games, so how Slovan stopped their attack will be of interest.
Mancini and his players are now back in Russia having left their summer training bases. They play our old pals Maribor in St Petersburg on Saturday in their final preparation before the game in Glasgow. Brendan will be occupied with thoughts of two hugely important cup games in the coming week, but if he gets through the Partick Thistle test on Saturday, he may be glad of the competitive experience. This is a time Game Face, not friendlies.