CELTIC F.C. V FK Sūduva (EUROPA LEAGUE PLAY-OFF)
THURSDAY 30TH AUGUST 2018
CELTIC PARK, GLASGOW
In a week where much is being made of the club’s transfer activity and Sunday’s visit of Rangers the task of overcoming Lithuanian champions Sūduva still stands in Celtic’s way.
After the team’s calamitous exit from the Champions League, a certain degree of apathy surrounded the Celtic supports’ psyche when it came to the Europa League play off draw against Lithuanian side Sūduva. The positive vibes radiating from Brendan and the squad early on in pre-season quickly evaporated with a range of defensive blunders, frustration at the failure to strengthen the squad and the Dedryck Boyata fiasco all increasing the volume of the cries of ‘crisis’ that followed Celtic’s failure to qualify for the riches of the Champions League.
In isolation Celtic’s score draw in Lithuania was not a terrible result with the invaluable away goal putting the Bhoys in a strong position to qualify but considering the malaise currently surrounding the club the draw in Lithuania only compounded the fears of the squad’s apparent stagnation. As such, only a positive performance and win to nil will be enough to supplement Sundays 1-0 victory over Hamilton in easing the groans of the fans before Steven Gerrard brings his new look Rangers side to Celtic Park this weekend.
The challenge presented by Sūduva will be much like that of many SPFL teams who come to Celtic Park. Although they struggled to inflict any serious danger on the Celtic defence in open play, their lack of game winning talent by being meticulously organised. Sūduva possess a decent amount of height in their ranks so will fancy their challenges of causing the Celtic rear guard difficulties from set pieces, as with their goal last Thursday.
For Celtic players like Tom Rogic and Calum McGregor will be critical in finding space in behind the Sūduva midfield as they try to penetrate their low defensive block, whilst James Forrest and Kieran Tierney will look to stretch the Lithuanian side and provide service to the Celtic strike force who will no doubt be eager to rack up a few goals ahead of Sundays’ Glasgow Derby.
Sūduva could be without their manager Vladimir Ceburin and three of his key players in defensive duo Zivanovic and Hayduchyk as well midfielder Cadenovic as visa issues cast doubts over their trip to Glasgow. They do, however, expect the issue to be resolved.
- Celtic have scored one goal or fewer in 7 of their last 8 games with their 3-1 victory over Partick Thistle being the exception
- Celtic lead Lithuanian opposition 16-2 on aggregate across their 5 games against A Lyga sides.
- Celtic have not lost at home in the playoff round of any European qualification since their 1-0 defeat to Maribor in 2014. Since then they have scored scored 13 goals and conceded only 4 across three victories to Malmo (3-2), Hapoel Be’er Sheba (5-2) and Astana (5-0) respectively.
- Celtic stand well ahead of Sūduva in terms of co-efficient. The hoops 31,000 coefficient points dwarf the 2,000 won by the Lithuanian champions.
Last five games:
Despite the main objective clearly being Europa League qualification, Celtic will undoubtedly play with Sundays’ hotly anticipated game against Rangers in mind. This means that Celtic will look to return to their free-flowing best in possession and rebuild confidence in their style. If Celtic are able to display a command of the ball when in possession similar to that of their early qualifiers and the final Glasgow derby games of last season then they will not only handily dispatch of Sūduva but increase their confidence of doing the same again on Sunday.
Key to Celtic when in possession is French midfielder Olivier Ntcham who will look to dictate the tempo of the match alongside his counterpart Scott Brown. Ntcham’s range of passing will undoubtedly come of use to Celtic when trying to break down the low block of Sūduva with the Frenchman being very adept at changing the pace of the game – whether that be through quickly shifting the ball into McGregor in the half space or finding Tierney’s marauding runs in behind the oppositions wingback.
It is also important for Celtic that their Norwegian international defender Kristoffer Ajer has a strong performance. The uncertainty over Dedryck Boyata’s future added to the club’s failure to recruit in defence means that come Sunday afternoon Ajer could be playing alongside a different defensive partner once again. Whilst a strong performance and a clean sheet would boost the promising defender’s confidence ahead of the Glasgow derby, he will also be useful to Celtic from a tactical point of view in offence. Ajer’s surges into midfield can be explained to far more detail then merely saying he’s a former midfielder with a fondness of dribbling.
In fact, the Germans devoted a word to it- andribbeln. Andribbeln can be described as the action when a centre back, in this case Ajer, carries the ball up the pitch and as such triggers an opposition player to press him. Once the opposition player goes to press, Celtic then have the opportunity to overload as they now have a free man higher up the pitch left behind by the presser. Against a well organised defensively minded team like Sūduva, this could come in very handy. Ajer’s impressive pass selection once he does break from defence will also benefit Celtic in efficiently constructing their attacks. Equally, the movement of the Celtics forwards, and the ability of McGregor and Rogic in particular, to find pockets of space will prove key to unlocking the Sūduva backline.
Key Points to Watch:
Dedryck Boyata: Thursday night could be the Belgians final appearance in a Celtic shirt. If it is not then another strong showing is needed if he wishes rebuild bridges with the Celtic support.
Celtic in possession: All too often recently Celtic have been very ineffective in possession despite having the vast majority of it. A higher tempo from Celtic both in possessions and in their press would kill off Sūduva and, if replicated on Sunday, would kill off Rangers too.
Odsonne Edouard: Brendan Rodgers said last week that Odsonne should be back into the squad for this game. Expect to see him make an appearance from the bench to get some minutes under his belt ahead of Sunday.
3-5-2: Whilst I have predicted that Celtic will start in their typical lopsided 4-2-3-1 formation, it would not surprise me if they deployed the 3-5-2 they performed to exciting effect earlier in pre-season. We could at some point see a shift to this shape spearheaded by the Dembele/ Edouard partnership which Brendan will likely look to unleash against Rangers on Sunday.
Are you *insert bottom half SPFL team* in disguise? Sūduva will look to frustrate Celtic with the sort of low block defensive style we have become accustomed to seeing visiting Celtic Park. They will look to keep it tight for as long as possible and take any chances they can get from a set piece or on the counter.
Score Prediction: Celtic 2-0 Sūduva