Celtic return to the road and return to European action when they make the trip to Rome to face Italian giants Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico.
The Glasgow side’s current position in the group means that the final two fixtures against the Biancocelesti, followed by Feyenoord in Rotterdam, are both must-win fixtures as the Hoops need six points out of six if they are to have any chance of securing European football after Christmas.
Making the knockout stages of the Champions League is still possible but it would require a number of mitigating factors to fall Celtic’s way that seem incredibly unlikely and even qualifying for the Europa League still seems like a monumental task.
Celtic still maintained their gap at the top of the league despite the dropped points with Barry Robson’s Aberdeen side holding Rangers to a draw at Pittodrie, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the team missed a massive opportunity to build momentum and confidence ahead of an incredibly difficult European away day.
Brendan Rodgers will have seen the reverse fixtures against Lazio at Parkhead as a missed opportunity. The Hoops took the lead early on through a well-taken Kyogo Furuhashi strike after a great pass from Matt O’Riley. From that point on, the usual demons that are commonly associated with Celtic in European action reared their ugly head, as two defensive lapses in judgement led to Lazio equalising shortly after Kyogo’s opener before snatching all three points in the dying embers of the games.
This defeat was made even more frustrating by the fact that Celtic were arguably the better team on the night as well as Luis Palma’s goal being disallowed by VAR for offside after the slightest of touches from Daizen Maeda.
Lazio are winless in their last three Serie A games, seeing shock losses away to Salernitana and Bologna in amongst a draw in the Derby della Capitale against Roma, with those results seeing them sitting 11th in the league which is a far cry from their second-placed finish from last season. They aren’t in the greatest of states at the moment with fans calling for Maurizio Sarri to leave his managerial post and the Italian media referring to tonight’s encounter as a potential ‘judgement day’ for the gaffer.
Despite the poor domestic form, the higher-ups at the club have no intentions of dismissing the coach at this point, perhaps influenced by their current second-place standing in the Champions League.
Lazio have made the Stadio Olimpico a tough ground for visiting teams in the competition this season, grabbing a draw against Atlético Madrid and securing a 1-0 win over Feyenoord in their previous group fixtures.
This is a must-win game for Celtic which is made even tougher by the absence of one of the standout performers in Europe this season in Luis Palma. Brendan Rodgers has opted for the experience of James Forrest to replace the match-winning endeavours of the Honduran.
This change may frustrate some sections of the Celtic fanbase, but Forrest is a calm head who has been here before. Hopefully he can assist his team-mates to exorcise the European demonds that have haunted the Hoops for years in the Champions League.
JAMES MCKENZIE // Follow James HERE