Celtic face off against Italian giants Lazio in the first Champions League group stage game at Celtic Park this season, and with the Biancocelesti looking out of sorts in recent weeks in Serie A, there may be no better opportunity to get points on the board than tonight.
Celtic will be further encouraged by the dramatic win at Fir Park against Motherwell this past weekend. As with every Champions League fixture, team selection is a big talking point, and here is A Celtic State of Mind’s team predictions:
GK – Joe Hart
The English stopper will be expected to return to the starting XI after serving his domestic suspension, missing the weekend’s trip to Fir Park after his red card against Livingston. Nerves will be on a knife-edge whenever he is on the ball given his knack for a mistake in European competitions especially, but given his brilliant penalty save in Rotterdam, more big saves will be needed tonight.
RB – Alistair Johnston
The Canadian full-back has swiftly adapted to Champions League football, as we expected in previous blog posts. His knack for upping his levels against better opposition will serve him well in Europe’s premier competition.
CB – Liam Scales
The Irishman hasn’t put a foot wrong since his reintroduction to the Celtic squad due to plenty of injuries affecting the numbers at centre-back. His performance in Rotterdam was one of the better displays on the night and he will be looking to carry that over to Wednesday’s game, hopefully with his centre-back partner remaining on the field for the full 90 minutes.
CB – Nat Phillips
Phillips hasn’t completed a full 90 minutes in a Celtic shirt just yet, but he will be expected to do just that as he fills in for suspended Swede Gustaf Lagerbielke at centre-back. His experience in the Champions League for Liverpool will be vital, with his match sharpness being the only potential issue.
LB – Greg Taylor
Taylor has been on an upward trajectory in recent weeks but will be looking to improve upon his display against Feyenoord in the group’s opening fixture.
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CM – Callum McGregor
The captain didn’t have his greatest of games in Rotterdam against Feyenoord, but much like the aforementioned Taylor, he will be looking to improve upon that display and having the 30-year-old at his best makes this Celtic team infinitely better.
CM – Matt O’Riley
The Dane has been the stand-out performer for Celtic so far this season and was the best player on the park for the club in that game in Rotterdam. He hasn’t looked out of place so far at the highest level and will be looking to continue his good form.
CM – Reo Hatate
Hatate came under fire after a lacklustre display against Feyenoord, but he possesses all the qualities Celtic will need to carve teams open at this level. With the 25-year-old closer to full fitness and looking sharp again, tomorrow’s fixture will be a big indicator as to whether Hatate is back to his best or not.
RW – Daizen Maeda
Maeda will be a vitally important player against Lazio due to his sheer volume of work off the ball. However, improvements in front of goal will be needed as Celtic need to be clinical at this level.
ST – Kyogo Furuhashi
The forward has had a quiet few weeks, failing to score in the last 3 games which is an extremely rare occurrence. He is still looking to ope3n his Champions League goal-scoring account and there would be no better time to do that than at a packed Celtic Park this evening.
LW – Luis Palma
The Honduran opened his goal-scoring account for Celtic at the weekend, bending in a cross-turned-shot beyond Motherwell keeper Liam Kelly. Following a quiet first half-hour in his maiden UCL appearance in Rotterdam, Palma began to show some bright sparks in that game and allowing him to cut in on his stronger foot, similarly to the move for his first Celtic goal, could cause plenty of problems for the Italian giants.
JAMES MCKENZIE // Follow James HERE