A Bit of Dutch Courage

Giorgos+Samaras+Celtic+v+Ajax+Amsterdam+RwTXte1FpxylThere seems to be growing optimism about Celtic’s chances of grabbing all three points in the Amsterdam ArenA this coming midweek.

And rightly so. After passing the initial test at Celtic Park, I genuinely think Celtic have Frank de Boer’s side rattled but will need to show huge resilience and courage to take all three points.

But it’s very achievable.

It’s a wholly different Celtic side in Europe this year, but one I see that can only grow in stature should they hold onto the core of the side.

Again, it’s must-win game in the Champions League as it opens the door to the last 16, or more importantly, football beyond Christmas. We, as fans, need this extra hit. It’s nothing to do with the absence of an additional Glasgow side in the SPFL; it’s down to Celtic being at the forefront of European competition. It certainly gets the nerves tingling.

We’re certainly not going to win the group, or the competition itself, but the inclusion in Europe’s elite certainly allows a wry smile and a spring in your step.

I think this young Ajax side will be bloodthirsty and hell bent on avenging the defeat at Celtic Park. On paper, it was a narrow defeat, but Celtic held firm and dominated most of the match. Celtic need to get in their faces more this time. They love to play one touch football and some of the passing was brilliant.

Ajax will come out with all guns blazing, which tactically will suit Celtic – they will sit tight and counter-attack.

My only concern is the lack of fire power up front. Pukki has failed to impress despite starting off well bagging two goals in two games. Lennon looks as if he has a job on his hands with the Finnish striker, who has already admitted he’s finding it hard to adapt in Scotland. As for Balde – I’m neither here nor there. He looks as if e has potential but at other times has the grace of a giraffe  on roller skates. He can make Dave McPherson look like a ballerina.

Essentially you’re reliant on Stokes and Samaras, and the midfield to pitch in with goals this coming week. The absence of Commons is huge. His ability to find the net when really needed is fantastic and he has that little bit of guile.

In saying that, young James Forrest looks as if he may be coming back to form and hopefully has overcome his injuries.

Celtic will need to be alert and compact at the back. Van Dijk will be in his homeland and keen to impress the natives and Fraser Forster has stepped up to the plate in Europe and how he is the blundering Joe Hart’s understudy for England is beyond me.

Hodgson seems to have an undying loyalty to the Manchester City ‘keeper despite numerous howlers of late.

I’m hoping Anthony Stokes shrugs off the “ready-made replacement” for Gary Hooper tag and finds the net in Amsterdam. It’s an unfair moniker, as he’s a completely different player than Hooper. His propensity for the spectacular finish or free-kick is better than Hooper’s but admittedly Hooper was a little more clever.

I still believe we need to find a replacement.I would hope that Stokes is out to prove he’s been worth has new deal and steps up his level from SPFL scorer to Champions League marksman. It’s in his locker but I believe Samaras will prove to be the Euro-talisman again and will cause Ajax problems.

Most teams don’t know how to deal with the big Greek Gazelle. But he’s grown as a player under Lennon and scored some vital goals in European competition and loves playing for us. Surely a new, improved contract is imminent.This game is enormous and it would be great to see Celtic win against Dundee United before setting off.

Yet it wouldn’t surprise me if Lennon wrapped a few players in cotton wool as a win in Holland could determine what path lies ahead in Europe. Don’t get me wrong – a draw would suffice but would likely mean Europa League football after Santa’s been. I’d take any early Christmas present all the same.

Without being utterly blase – the SPFL Trophy is Celtic’s already. It’s a foregone conclusion. It’s not being arrogant – it’s being realistic. Last season, after Celtic had played in the CL, they were dropping points left, right and centre. We’re approaching the end of the first quarter of the season and remain unbeaten in the league.

That is far more commendable than playing lower league football and trouncing teams with a side packed with highly paid ex-SPL players. Celtic have had little credit thus far in the media.The judgement call for Lennon is a difficult one. Field your strongest side to maintain the record or rest a few players for next midweek.

Amido Balde came on against a resilient Partick Thistle last Sunday and scored a cracking goal and with James Forrest returning, he’ll need match practice – vital for any player coming in from the periphery.

I’m not entirely confident that Commons will be available for Wednesday but may be risked at one point – that’s the thing with Champions League football. You gamble.

There will also be increased responsibility on Kayal’s shoulders in midfield with Brown being out. I didn’t buy into the praise he received in the last tie although I thought he was okay. He did give the ball away at times but on form he’s more than capable.

It’s very hard to predict the outcome here but Lennon has instilled a degree of maturity into his teams and impressed upon the fact that in Europe, holding onto the ball is key. It’s once you get to that last third and how you conjur up goals.

It’s my only concern but I’m confident we’ll bag at least one goal and if it’s an early one, it might be more.

Here’s hoping.

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Gavin McCann

A dipsomaniac funambulist steadying himself on life's tightrope through the medium of writing. I "suffer" from diphallic terata with mild polyorchidity. Like a dug wi' two dicks.

gavin-mccann has 35 posts and counting.See all posts by gavin-mccann

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