Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Celtic v Juventus Preview

The UEFA Champions League returns tonight and it promises to be a fantastic night at Paradise as Scottish champions, Celtic take on Italian giants, Juventus.  It will no doubt be a tough test for Neil Lennon's men but they should have nothing to fear.  They have already beat Barcelona at Celtic Park and came within seconds of a draw at the Nou Camp.  This is a special Celtic team with some special players and I hope they're not done with their European adventure yet. 

History would suggest that this will be a hard game for the Italians.  Celtic have faced two legged ties with Italian clubs on nine occasions and have never lost the home leg at Celtic Park.  Juventus have been to Paradise twice and lost on both occasions, most recently in 2001.  Celtic also have an exceptional record at home in the Champions League.  In 23 home games, they have lost just twice.  Both of those defeats came at the hands of Barcelona.  Neil Lennon spoke about bringing the thunder back to Celtic Park.  Not only has he succeeded in doing that, he has also gave the fans a team that can compete with the very best in Europe.

Juventus will most likely line up in their usual 3-5-2 formation.  They will be very strong throughout their team and will be very good technically.  Their midfield looks especially strong and will most likely include Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal.  The battle between Pogba and Victor Wanyama in the midfield promises to be epic.  Both are young men who are built like heavyweight boxers.  It should be a fantastic watch and the winner of that battle could end up being the difference maker in the eventual result.  Another man Celtic have to be wary of is Pirlo.  Pirlo is thirty-three years old now but he's the sort of player who could play until he's forty.  He's not the quickest player in the world but he doesn't have to be.  All the speed he needs is in his brain.  He has the ability to see things that most players don't see and he also has the technical ability to make the pass.  If Celtic stand back and let Pirlo dictate the pace of the game then they may as well concede the tie before kick off.  Pirlo is the sort of player who warrants special attention and Neil Lennon will need a plan to reduce his impact on the outcome.

Most Celtic fans seem to be favouring a 4-3-3 but I expect to see Celtic line up in the 4-4-1-1 that served us so well in the group stages.  If it was good enough to beat Barcelona then I don't see why we would change things now.  My line up would be as follows:

GK : Fraser Forster - He is a top class goalkeeper and with Joe Hart making mistake after mistake it should only be a matter of time before he is England's number one.

RB : Adam Matthews - Matthews is probably a better attacker than defender but his pace usually gets him out of trouble and he deserves a start.

LB : Emilio Izaguirre - Similar to Matthews in that his pace is his best asset in defending.  He hasn't been as good since his injury but is still the best left-back at the club.

CB : Kelvin Wilson - Wilson has grown into his role at the club and has come a long way since a poor start to his Celtic career.  He is quick too and it's an asset I like in a centre-back.

CB : Mikael Lustig - Realistically, if Nigeria hadn't done so well in the African Cup of Nations he would have been playing right-back but as it is I'd expect him to partner Wilson at the heart of the defence.  Efe Ambrose is a good player but I can't see how Celtic can put a player into the biggest game of the season who has had the lack o preparation that he has.

RM : Scott Brown - The skipper will most likely start on the right but with Juventus playing three in the middle as well as wing-backs, I expect we will see him drift from right to middle when required.  Personally, I'd put him in the middle and play Forrest here but I'd be very surprised if Lennon does that.

LM : Charlie Mulgrew - Mulgrew's set pieces will have a big impact on this game and he can play just about everywhere but for this occasion, I think the left wings the place for him.  Like Brown, I don't think he will be restricted to the wing and will come inside when required but he will start out wide.

CM : Victor Wanyama - What a find he was?  Wanyama cost peanuts when he moved to Celtic from Germinal Beerschot but he has been a fantastic signing and is a massive reason that Celtic are at this stage in the competition.  For anyone who still doubts how good he is, just watch the Barcelona games were he was the best midfielder on show in both games.

CM : Joe Ledley - Ledley's at his best when you don't really notice him.  He just quietly gets on with things but when he's played in centre-midfield he never lets the team down.

AM : Georgios Samaras - Obviously this depends on his fitness test but I would feel a lot better about this game if the big man is playing in this role.  In this position he will have two jobs to do.  Juventus will most likely have a lot of possession and I expect Celtic to be under pressure for large periods of the game.  When he get it, we have to make it count.  Samaras is the best player we have at holding the ball up.  He can carry the ball or just hold it up to allow the midfield to get out.  He needs to be our out ball and when used in this role he has always done well.  His second job and perhaps most important job, is to babysit Andrea Pirlo.  Pirlo is an expert at finding space in the midfield and we need Samaras to shadow him when possible.  If Celtic played a normal 4-4-2 or even 4-3-3, Pirlo would just sit in the gap between the defence and his midfield colleagues and dictate the play.  With Samaras on his tail, hopefully he won't be able to do that. 

CF : Gary Hooper - Hooper is perfect for this role.  He has pace, can play football when required and if presented with an opportunity, I'm backing him to finish it.  With three centre-backs for company it will most likely be a frustrating night for him but he only needs a second to score a goal and there's no better man for the job.

I would expect to see Kris Commons and James Forrest at some stage too.  Both are quality players and if it was up to me they would be in with a shout of starting but Neil Lennon has always favoured the cautious approach and it has got us this far so it's hard to complain.  One thing I would like to see Celtic do is try to force Juventus into a 5-3-2.  By going 4-4-1-1 and having Brown and Mulgrew out wide the Juventus wing-backs will have to be careful when going forward.  If Celtic played 4-3-3, the wing-backs could push forward knowing that there's three defenders to cover Celtic's forwards and Pirlo will be just in front of them to act as a spare man.  With a 4-4-1-1, the wing-backs will know that Celtic have Samaras and Hooper ready to attack as well as two wide men and that would leave the Italians short at the back.  By doing this Celtic will be narrowing the areas they have to defend and when required, Brown and Mulgrew have plenty of experience in central areas and will be more than capable of providing the necessary cover. 

Prediction - It's a hard one to call.  Celtic need to respect Juventus as they are technically superior but we are well capable of causing them problems.  I can't see there being a lot of goals in this one and can see 0-0 or 1-0 to either side.  I'll put my neck on the line and go with a 1-0 win to the bhoys in green and white.     

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