Tonight Celtic kick off the new season for British big clubs in the Champions League, against Portuguese opponents Braga. Both clubs finished last season as runners up in their respective league which although may prove as failure to either end of the Old Firm, was considered by many as a huge achievement for Braga as it was the first time they’ve managed such a feat.
Tonight is Lennon’s first game as fully appointed manager of the Bhoys, and should prove a sturdy test, Celtic are rather infamous with their away form in the Champions League, but Lennon was careful not to dwell on it;
“Our home record at Celtic Park is very, very good. So we know that if we can take some sort of result back to Scotland, we’ll be pleased with that.”
The qualifying round for the illustrious Champions League has proved in recent years a rather nail bighting experience for Celtic fans. Last year saw them battle bravely past Dynamo Moscow only to come undone by the might of the Premier League’s Arsenal.
Celtic can take some heart from Braga’s play-off round exit from the Europa League last year, when the Portuguese went out to Swedish side Elfsborg.But most fans will be looking back to Strachan’s first game on that bitter night, in Artmedia, where they lost the tie before they had a chance to show their stuff in Glasgow, and be nervously comparing Lennon’s first game as rather similar.
Some good news is that where Braga have lost their star goalkeeper, Celtic have an almost perfectly healthy squad with only Darren O’Dea unable to fly with the squad.
Celtic will be relying on the regular faces of McGeady, Brown, Hinkel and Loovens to keep the ship steady, as Lennon’s new signings – Juarez, Ledley & Mulgrew look to impress with certain first team slots tonight.
Celtic’s main weakness is their defence, it seems like an old tail that anybody but the coaching staff at Celtic Park are aware of, but with Loovens and Hinkel being the only regular starters from last year still in the squad, it could be a case of make or break time for Mulgrew, Hoovield or Rogne tonight.
Celtic need a defensive leader, theirs no denying that- its simple to see from last season, and Lennon has mixed and matched his centre backs while flying around North America for their pre-season friendlies, aware that the gap left by the pairing of Gary Caldwell and Stephen McManus has not been filled.Not to mention a goalkeeper in Zaluska, who although many consider to be a worthy replacement for Boruc, has only played a hand full of competitive games for the club after joining last year.
It seems a quick fix will have to do tonight if Celtic are to get anything out of this game. After defensive target, Kevin Wilsons, supposed move from Nottingham Forrest hasn’t materialised yet, following Sol Campbell’s decision to join Newcastle.
But where the defensive reconstruction in the middle has failed, Celtic have managed to add some interesting players to their attacking line up. Mexican internationalist Efrain Juarez looks to offer a very attractive option on the opposite wing from Aiden McGeady, the purchase of Joe Ledley offers some protection in the middle of the field, while Daryl Murphy and Gary Hooper offer some alternatives up front.
Tonights game should do well to offer us a little insight into the squad that Neil Lennon is trying to construct, theirs no denying that its still a work in progress – it always still is at this stage in the season. But lets see what happens and hope that after this tie, were not using that as an excuse.