A Celtic State of Mind’s Europa League Pre-match – Roamin’ with the Romans

ALAN MORRISON:

Celtic face their most severe challenge of the season in Rome against Lazio on Thursday. The Italians are fresh off their first away win of the season, in the San Siro 2-1 against AC Milan. If the team of Gullit, Baresi and van Basten are not the force they were, Lazio won’t care as they are now in the Champions League places.

However, any thoughts coach Inzaghi will prioritise and field a weakened team is probably wishful thinking. He fielded a strong side at Celtic Park and expect the same here. Even if top scorer Immobile starts on the bench, Correa and Caicedo present a skilful, strong and experienced challenge. Throw in the exceptional Milinkovic-Savic and there is plenty of attacking threat.

As in Glasgow, expect them to get the ball to their speedy wing-backs, and play a British-style long ball and diagonal-based approach when possible. The experienced Lucas anchors the team.

The Celtic Park tie became a high stakes poker shoot-out. Both sides were open and it was relatively easy to play through the lines for either side. Over the last two seasons the average Celtic match has 82 Pack Passes – forward passes that take out at least one opponent. There were 146 in this match, 28 more than the next highest – Celtic vs Hibernian in February 2019.

Celtic probably need to avoid such an open game on this occasion. They took their chances whilst Forster and the post saved the Hoops. In away European ties that tends not to go your way.

Lazio struggle for clean sheets and do concede. Expect goals at each end. This is a very good side and a Celtic win would be amazing. I’ll optimistically go for 1-1 with McGregor to get a trademark European away goal.

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KEVIN O’ROURKE:

In the lead-up to this game I’ve heard the phrase, “It’s a free hit,” being mentioned by some supporters; if we lose in Rome that it’s not a disaster. This may be true, with two games still to go in the group we will still have a chance to qualify for the last 32 if things do go our way on Thursday night.

That being said, confidence in football is a massive thing, playing how we have been recently and looking at the last game against Lazio at Celtic Park a few weeks ago, we should have every intention of going to Rome and getting a positive result.

Lazio are a strong team and, since our last meeting, have moved up the Serie A table to fourth. Any talk of Inzaghi possibly losing his job has gone quiet as they have hit some form.

Our own form in recent weeks has been impressive but this will be a tough challenge and we will need to be at our best to get anything from the game. Elyounoussi, Edouard and Forrest will be key to getting us up the pitch when we can as I’d expect Lazio to have plenty of the ball.

As tough as it will be, I see no reason why we can’t come away with a positive result with Edouard scoring in a 1-1 draw.

MARTIN DONALDSON:

European football’s newest rivalry goes head-to-head in the eternal city of Rome early on Thursday evening. A pulsating night of entertainment at Celtic Park had the electric atmosphere to match as two opposing teams and cultures collided.

A short two-week interlude has only whetted the appetite further as both countries’ media, a politician, and, of course, UEFA have continued to talk about the fan involvement in the match at Celtic Park.

Both teams boast a 100% record since they last met in the Europa League, so confidence should be high in both dressing rooms pre-match. Celtic have shown a steeliness away from home in Europe so far this season, but this match will surely present the biggest test so far.

Lazio more than proved to be a good footballing side at Celtic Park, with quick movement and intelligent interplay throughout. Celtic will definitely be aware of the various threats posed in the Italian Cup holders’ squad.

I expect Neil Lennon to make changes at right-back, bringing back Hatem Abd Elhamed to make a more defensively—tight unit at the back. With Bolingoli a doubt too, Johnny Hayes may get a run out from the start.

Options middle-to-front continue to keep Celtic fluid, especially in attacking positions, and the ability to go to the bench to change our style may be crucial.

Prediction: 1-1 draw with McGregor scoring.

KEVIN GRAHAM:

It’s a city that has been on the ‘must do’ list of Celtic fans for years. It’s joint top with Madrid. So, it’s no surprise that over 9,000 Celtic fans are making the pilgrimage to Rome. Most would have hoped to have some more freedom and fewer warnings of potential violence.

Those who know anything about Italian Ultra culture know that it’s basically a medieval desire to protect and promote your territory and town. Such a large travelling support would annoy both Roma and Lazio Ultras before any provocation on perceived right-wing leanings that still grip football in Italy making it a melting pot of contradictions and intrigue.

When the Celtic support travel from the Villa Borghes to the Stadio Olimpico, they will arrive to find themselves surrounded by fascist architecture. The stadium is situated in the Foro Italico complex, formerly called Foro Mussolini. They will see the beautiful salmon pink building now home to the Italian National Olympic Committee but formerly home to the Fascist Male Academy of Physical Education.

As the support, which will be boisterous and lively despite an alcohol ban, get off the shuttle coaches, they will be faced with an almost 18m high weather-beaten marble obelisk with the inscription ‘Mussolini Dux’, which is at the entrance to the Curve Sud and what will be the search area. The search area is a massive square decorated with mosaics and sonnets to Fascism and youth. As I said, Italy’s relationship with its right-wing past is complicated.

Since the first game, the support has become poster bhoys for the anti-fascist left-wing in the football world. That’s a hat that is more than a comfortable fit for most with a Celtic State of Mind.

What we need now is to be the poster bhoys of our Europa League group and grab a positive result. Any positive result will require a gladiatorial type effort against a side that proved to be a better side than us and particularly handy at this football lark. They were unlucky to get beaten at Celtic Park. They didn’t deserve to be beaten but neither did we.

We will need to be just as resilient and maybe even more so than the first game. This will be our toughest game so far this season and by some distance. While defeat won’t be a disgrace or end our chances of getting out the group, any sort of result would rate as one of our best performances of recent times.

I’m going for a draw with Kristoffer Ajer scoring.

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