FC Shakhter Karagandy vs Celtic | Time For Change
Champion’s league Play Off | FC Shakhter Karagandy vs Celtic | 16:00 GMT
Celtic face Kazakhstani Champions, FC Shakhter Karagandy, in the first leg of their Champion’s League Play-Off tie. The Hoops face the task of playing on yet another artificial pitch, although the home side may see this as challenge as their home stadium, Shakhtyor Stadium, has a grass pitch; this tie is being played at the Astana Arena, Kazakhstan’s national stadium.
Although used to a more natural surface the Miners may benefit from the artificial surface. Shakhter are a physical side who typically play long balls into the box; meaning they may be less affected by any differences to how the ball plays on the field in comparison to Celtic with their passing orientated style.
Stuart Duff, who previously played for Inverness CT, feels Celtic are favourites over the two legs, but the Glasgow giants shouldn’t expect an easy ride from Shakhter:
“Celtic, on paper, are favourites to go through, and I would expect them to do well,” said Duff.
“They’re a very physical team – their back four are six foot up to six foot six,” said Duff.
“Midfield are exactly the same and up front they tend to put a lot of high balls in.
“They’re a very physical team and Celtic will probably under-estimate them a little bit – they tend to throw the ball in from the halfway line and they used that last year to their benefit. That’s how they scored 90 percent of their goals.”
“The main thing will be they will have to do quite well over here,” said Duff.
“The conditions won’t be ideal – the tie will be played in the evening, so the weather won’t be too much of a factor – it’ll be quite cool – but Shakhter are very strong at the back with four experienced players and two that sit just in front of them, especially away from home.
“They’re not the most mobile back four. If Celtic play short, sharp passing, they could penetrate them. However, at home, they’ll come out and try to get a result – because at Celtic Park, it’ll be hard for them.”
This immobility at the back can be seen below. The second leg of the last round of qualification, the Miners were three goals ahead from the previous home tie but lose three goals to bring things all square. The Kazakhstanis go on to score twice securing the tie with Celtic but their weakness is there to see. Although two of the goals lost come from penalties, the conceding of both can be blamed on poor defensive movement and positioning.
Roll of the Dice
With a large, strong team all over the park and a slow, cumbersome defence this tie is the perfect chance for Lennon to make a few changes to how he normally lines his team up.
From the perspective of the squad, right back is possibly the strongest position for Celtic with both Mikael Lustig and Adam Matthews very capable Internationalists. Both can play elsewhere on the park and with Matthew’s mix of defensive capabilities and pacey attacking flair he may be perfect for the right flank of midfield; helping add steel against their physical midfield and posing an offensive danger to their slow defence.
As for the role of centre back(s) I would suggest this is the hardest choice for Lennon. Mulgrew may be in his mind for midfield but has looked decent recently when pushed back into defence. Ambrose who had been on a downward spiral of form looked to be getting back to his best against Aberdeen whilst Steven Mouyokolo, who had looked to be cementing his place in the team had a torrid time against the Dons. Add to that mix Virgil van Dijk who is returning to fitness and cost far too much to be considered a back-up player and there is a minor selection headache to contend with. If van Dijk is fit I think he has the quality to be first choice centre back. For my second choice, on the basis I think he is least likely to have a moment of disaster and facilitate a Shakhter goal, I’d partner van Dijk with Mulgrew.
Another change Lennon should consider is up front. Georgios Samaras is possibly Celtic’s best player and is certainly capable of playing at Champion’s League level, as he proved last year and in seasons past, however there can be no doubt his most effective role is on the left of midfield as opposed to striker. Assuming Samaras plays on the left then the most likely candidate for the sole striker role is Anthony Stokes. Stokes, despite his two goals, has however looked poor this season. He has at times seemed disinterested. At others he has shown greed for possession where a pass would have done the job and at other times he has surprised by making a pass when really greed was what was called for. Whilst the sale of Gary Hooper has lessened Lennon’s options up front they are not limited to Samaras and Stokes. Amido Baldé has played just 15 minutes of competitive game time this season however he has both strength and ace and all the qualities to fulfil the lone striker role. Capable of bring other players into game he could prove a formidable opponent to the Kazakhstani’s defence.
Derk Boerrigter may also be fit enough to play tonight. Whilst he, like Samaras, is strongest on the left he does have incredible pace and could utilise that speed against the more sluggish Shakhter defenders.
The final and most risky change I would consider having Lennon make is in midfield. Whilst I would expect to see Kayal or Mulgrew in central midfield along with Brown and Ledley (or Commons should Lennon be feeling adventurous) I would like to see another new bhoy get his chance; Tom Rogic. Again his pace is blistering, he is capable of picking out a great pass and is deceptively big. His energy and speed could cause problems for the Miners whilst allowing Celtic to move from defending to attacking in an instant. Rogic has had little in the way of first team experience and may not be ready for such an important game, however Kayal’s current form is abysmal, Mulgrew, if used, is best in defence and commons, whilst more than capable, is physically more limited which in turn limits the dynamism of the midfield. The youngster may not be able to manage the full 90 minutes but he would certainly bring an aspect of the unknown to the game for Shakhter and allow Commons to give his all should he come on to replace the youngster or vice versa. Also capable of playing through the middle and fitting the bill of having pace to burn is James Forrest, however I would suggest young Dylan McGeouch is coming along stronger than the ever popular Forrest.
Whilst I consider these two matches against FC Shakhter to be Celtic’s most important of the season and would normally suggest a more conservative approach, performances like those seen against Cliftonville simply will not do against our upcoming opposition. Lennon needs to freshen things up and whilst I wouldn’t be putting any bets on Tom Rogic starting I hope we see something different to what we all expect.
FC Shakhter Karagandy 0 Celtic 1
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