Celtic will head into the game against Cluj looking to get revenge over the team which dumped them out of the UEFA Champions League in August.
Since then, the Scottish champions have gone unbeaten in 10 games, scoring 24 goals in the process. The side which will line up against Cluj will be very different from that one which conceded four goals at Celtic Park.
Neil Lennon’s side will want to get back to winning ways after a disappointing showing at Easter Road at the weekend. Celtic lacked a lot of width in the wide areas and should go with two natural wingers on Thursday evening.
The group was blown wide open on matchday one with Cluj’s impressive home victory against Lazio and Celtic’s draw in Rennes. Any four of these sides look capable of qualifying, so these matches on Thursday should give a better indication as to the way in which the group will shape up by December.
Celtic to win 3-1 with Odsonne Edouard to score.
If we are serious about qualifying from this group then we must win our home games. The opening round of fixtures proved that anyone could win this group. What Celtic need to do is make Celtic Park a place where teams get a game; where they don’t come and admire the atmosphere and the disco lights. They come and get 90 minutes where they need to produce blood, sweat and tears to get any sort of result.
Cluj found it easy to get a result when they last visited. I don’t buy this revenge mission narrative that most are going for as both teams will be looking at this game and will fancy getting a result. Whoever gets a result puts themself in a great position after two games. There isn’t much between the teams and Celtic need to make Paradise count.
We had one of those games at the weekend and it’s great to get back into the saddle so quickly with a massive game.
Celtic to win 2-0 with James Forrest scoring at any time.
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Celtic’s returning Europa League opponents CFR Cluj present a different challenge. The Hoops are used to patient possession even though Lennon is seeking a more direct approach. His side will have to get comfortable with <80% pass completion despite 70%+ possession.
In many ways Hibernian away was a good dress rehearsal. They too pressed high and, when in possession, sought to get the ball forward quickly. The game will appear stretched and positional excellence will be required. Both opponents, but especially Cluj, are focussed on the second ball. If Guardiola, no less, states that winning the second ball is key in English football, then the world listens.
Petrescu has his side fight for high balls and aims to get the midfield three in support of the front three as much as possible. In the same way, Hibs tried to get Mallan, Allan and Middleton around Doidge. Alertness is key and anticipation of the bounce. Brown usually excels defensively in such ties.
The quid pro quo is that the Romanians will not defend in numbers nor deep but look to leave three up top when they can then counter early with long passes. Accuracy is not primary. Remember their first goal at Celtic Park – Omrani never once looked up before banging the ball over to Deac to score. Hibs also got lucky on Saturday with Doidge’s cross deflecting in off Ajer.
Yet Celtic managed 22 shots against Cluj at home and 24 versus Hibs. Their ability to play at pace through the lines will expose their opponent.
Defensively, the missing pieces in the 3-4 reverse are exactly what Celtic need. Jullien wins 92% of aerial challenges. He has NEVER lost outright an aerial challenge for Celtic.
Meanwhile Bolingoli is a master at passing and receiving through the midfield lines. He will be a key out ball for Celtic to beat the press.
I take Celtic to triumph 2-1 with Christie to score again.