Celtic v Rosenborg (Europa League)
Thursday 20 September 2018
Celtic Park, Glasgow
The good, the bad, and the ugly.
Not only the title of one of the more watchable spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s, it’s a more or less accurate description of the campaign Celtic FC have put together over the first two months of the season. And it’s also an apt observation for the opening match of the 2018/19 Europa League group stages. The good: we start against the pot 4 team at Parkhead. The bad: It’s not in the Champions League. The ugly: This is not only the second time this season we have seen our Norwegian opponents for European ties, it’s the third go-round in the last two seasons. Familiarity breeds contempt, indeed.
While Celtic surely breathed a sigh of relief when the group stage schedules were released, they should be taking nothing for granted these days. This year’s team has yet to gel and truly fire on all cylinders, and the inability to string together more than two good performances has to be concerning to many as the next stage of the European campaign begins.
I sought the counsel of the men behind @kroneball on Twitter, who are much more up to speed on Norwegian football than most. According to them, Rosenborg are coming into this tie a much improved side from the one Celtic eased past in the second round of Champions League qualifying. The form table doesn’t lie, and their injury-time winner over Ronny Deila’s Vålerenga on Sunday propelled them to the top of the league, leapfrogging Brann. And although they are the Pot 4 team in this group, they have shown themselves capable of scoring at Celtic Park and will be very dangerous on the counter and at set pieces.
Stats & Facts Corner:
- RBK are unbeaten in 12 matches, winning 10, since their loss to Celtic in late July.
- They lead Eliteserien by two points, having scoring 40 goals and allowing 18 against
- RBK have only conceded one goal in their last five European matches
- Celtic have kept a clean sheet in their last four games.
Last Five Meetings:
Nicklas Bendtner, recently in the bad books at Rosenborg for a late-night round of fisticuffs with a Copenhagen taxi driver, has not played in two matches and may only make the bench for this one. Rosenborg typically line up in a 4-3-3 and they should do so again on Thursday. They’re also on a short-term high after that pulsating 2-3 road victory in Oslo, which included a 90th minute volley from Issam Jebali off a corner kick
Tunisian international Jebali only came to Rosenborg last month from Swedish side Elfsborg, but have made an immediate impact with four goals and one assist in his six starts so far from his wide left position in attack. Over on the right side, Swedish U21 international Jonathan Levi is also in good form, getting two goals and an assist in his last four starts. Cultured left-back Birger Meling is also an offensive threat, producing 7 assists in the league so far this season, not to mention getting the opening goal at Parkhead less than two months ago.
After missing two months of action and the previous games against Celtic, Anders Konradsen is now back in the side and the former Rennes player and teammate of Stefan Johansen at Strømsgodset will add experience and guile to the central midfield.
There’s no reason to think Celtic will spring any lineup surprises Thursday night. However, Brendan Rodgers does have some decisions to make, starting up top where I believe Leigh Griffiths may be preferred to Odsonne Edouard. Edouard looked lost in the shuffle against St. Mirren this past weekend and Griffiths has the set-piece ability that Celtic need as a weapon in their inconsistent attack. However, Edouard’s two goals against RBK in the qualifiers speak loudly as well. For me it’s almost a coin flip.
Scott Sinclair must be playing in these matches to justify his place in the team, and I think now is the perfect time for him to try and wrest his starting position long-term from a cooling-off Callum McGregor. Carpe diem, Scotty.
Some might be tempted to affix Oliver Ntcham to the bench with industrial-strength epoxy until he learns a lesson in keeping his head. He turned in an atrocious 37 minutes in Paisley on Friday night, sent off after a deserved, in my opinion, second yellow. However, Rodgers doesn’t seem to be that type of manager, preferring his errant players atone for their mistakes on the pitch. Ntcham will be a massive presence in the midfield and he needs to put in another performance like the one he did in the first leg of the qualifying tie with RBK, where he came home with a brace.
The 4-2-3-1 returns from Friday night’s back three, and I suspect both Kristoffer Ajer and Filip Benkovic will be breathing sighs of relief as neither looked especially comfortable in the back 3 on Friday. Ajer will surely get the nod, however, partnered with Dedryck Boyata.
Key points to watch:
- Will Celtic’s offense get cooking? Celtic have not scored more than three goals in a match since the season began, a slightly alarming statistic that Friday night’s scoreless draw at St. Mirren didn’t do anything to offset.
- Rosenborg’s set pieces. While they might not get a lot of set pieces, they will be dangerous at each and every one of them. In their victory over Valerenga at the weekend, all three of their goals came from corner kicks.
- Central Fight: As noted above Olivier Ntcham will be a vital cog if Celtic are to win the battle of the midfields. RBK captain Mike Jensen will have his hands full with both Ntcham and Scott Brown but is this time supported by Anders Konradsen.
Prediction: Celtic 3, Rosenborg 1
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