Tonight’s match against the Slovenia champions will not only yield millions for Glasgow’s only cash rich club but will be absolutely pivotal in moulding Celtic, and manager Ronny Deila’s, season.
But we’re only Halfway to Paradise. So near, yet so far away.
Celtic will win the league, of course. Of that I no doubt. If they pick up a cup along the way, Ronny will have achieved a huge amount in his first season. But I want to be dining out with the Barcelonas, the Real Madrids, the Milans and Bayerns of this world. Life will be a lot duller without it. The stakes are indeed high.
After a good, steady professional performance at the Stadium Ljudski it would be a living nightmare if Celtic did not progress. Unthinkable.
It was a total transformation from the two ties against Legia Warsaw, but before I talk about that I have to condemn Sky Sports, who decided to run a poll all day – on the matchday itself – on whether Celtic should have been there or not. It backfired and to be honest, they should be treading carefully considering a huge amount of subscribers in Scotland will be Hoops fans.
Back to the real football matters.
Deila and Collins got it right and a few eyebrows were raised as Commons sat on the bench. I would have perhaps brought Commons on to replace Stokes later in the game as he holds the ball up better than anyone else in the team, but overall we had few complaints. It was a good performance and a fine result.
In fact, we should have won the game, and we had the chances to, but like most I would have taken a score draw over there. Chances by Mulgrew, Van Dijk and Johansen could have gone in on another night but they didn’t. Celtic’s tactics were spot on though. They knew Maribor played a counter-attack system and, in the main, nullified it.
Following the Legia matches Celtic were heavily criticised and rightly so. But fair play to the management and the players. They stepped up to the plate, pulled their socks up and got on with it.
What most of us are tending to forget is Deila has picked up Neil Lennon’s side and we expected instant results. Once we had wiped the egg from our faces and taken the early season wake up call courtesy of the Poles, we look that bit better. As I travelled to the Dundee United match last week I had serious doubts about Celtic’s ability to chalk up a win. How wrong I was as United were slapped about like a red-headed stepchild.
It’s been a crazy start to the season. Reyjkavik were never going to be a challenge and Warsaw proved you take nothing for granted. Inverness was a bad result, but with a weakened team, with this game in mind, and before it Celtic had scored nine league goals in two games, conceding just one.
The green shoots of recovery are sprouting.
I firmly believe Deila is gaining a true understanding of his players abilities. Young McGregor put a shift and a half in. He has ernomous potential and looks like a good old-fashioned winger with the ability to pop up and score. On top of that Deila has form for bringing youth through and developing them well.
I’m buzzing ahead of tonights game. All the signs are good and I wasn’t particularly impressed by any of Maribor’s players in the first leg. The front man Tavares looked decent and is clever on the ball but for a counter-attacking side, they lacked pace.
Despite my confidence, I do have some concerns over our defensive abilities. Van Dijk is one hell of a player but at times his positional sense lets him down. He wandered aimless which allowed Maribor the cut the defense open easily.
That’s why I think Celtic’s approach may be a little more cagey. Maribor will definitely try to hurt us on the break. The more we pressurise them in their own half, the more chance we have of scoring from corners and free-kicks. They looked dodgy at corners and had Johansen not been on the line Van Dijk would have give Celtic a lead for the home tie. Mulgrew and Lustig also had chances from corners.
In saying that, Maribor must take the game to Celtic at some stage and this could leave them vulnerable.
The Group Stages are within touching distance and the Solvenians are there for the taking.
I don’t care about how much money is at stake. It’s the prestige. I want to hear Zadok the Priest ring out at a packed Parkhead at least three times more.
The player’s showed their mettle in Slovenia, as well as their class against United, and they will be backed by a partisan crowd who love nothing more than taking on Europe’s elite.
We’ve witnessed bigger and better teams crumble in the intesity of the Celtic’s Green and White Arena. Let’s crank it up for the vistors. Let them know we are there.
Give the player’s that extra backing that will carry them on to the next episode.
Then, and only then we can close the Legia Chapter.
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