Blogs & Opinion


Sam's the man

Samaras' graft and guile could aid Celtic against Spartak, says Andy

Features - Andy Walker Posted 1st October 2012 view comments

Celtic go into Tuesday's Champions League away tie against Spartak Moscow as huge underdogs but as the astonishing performance of Europe's golfers in an unforgettable Ryder Cup success has proved, anything is possible in sport.

As the lowest ranked side in a group containing Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow, the odds are stacked against Neil Lennon's men being good enough to qualify for the knockout phase of Europe's premier club competition and a positive result in Moscow is essential if Celtic are to have any hope of progressing to the last 16.

Samaras: the Greek forward has not always been loved by Hoops fans

Samaras: the Greek forward has not always been loved by Hoops fans

It doesn't take a genius to work out that as huge favourites to win the competition outright, never mind the group, Barcelona look too strong to finish anywhere other than top of Group G. Consequently, Celtic's results against Benfica and Spartak will determine their fate.

Despite an extraordinary home support against Benfica on Matchday 1, Celtic dropped two points in Glasgow and will have to come up with some sort of game-plan to pick up something in the Russian capital.

Samaras keeps coming back for more and is so aware of his defensive duties as well as being able to create and score.

Andy Walker
Quotes of the week

LIVE ON SKY SPORTS
UEFA Champions League

Spartak Moscow v Celtic
5pm, Tue, Sky Sports 2 HD
Watch on the move with Sky Go
How to remote record

Georgios Samaras and Joe Ledley were on the bench in the 2-0 SPL victory over Motherwell at the weekend but I reckon their international experience will see both playing from the start in this one.

In particular, you have to admire Samaras and his strength of character. For a long time he was derided by a large section of the Celtic support and even his manager stated that he was the kind of player who could get you the sack!

But Samaras keeps coming back for more and is so aware of his defensive duties as well as being able to create and score.

His cross right on the corner flag with his left foot enabled Kris Commons to volley home a vital first away to Helsingborgs in the qualifiers and Samaras himself scored the second.

Recognition

The Champions League stage is certainly where a lot of Celtic players have the opportunity to show how good they are. Joe Hart is undeniably England's first-choice keeper but a place for a capable understudy is up for grabs.

Fraser Forster has improved immensely over the last 18 months and big performances from him in the group stages might just end with a call-up to the England squad.

At the other end of the pitch, Neil Lennon was talking up the chances of Gary Hooper catching Roy Hodgson's eye. Granted, the level of competition is not as high in Scotland as it is in the Barclays Premier League, but goals on the European stage against some of the best defenders on the continent brings huge recognition.

It has to be said, though, that three points in Moscow will be really tough. Spartak showed a fair bit of ambition in their first group tie in the Nou Camp against Barcelona by scoring two goals and will be looking to make home advantage count.

Like Neil Lennon's men, their recent form is impressive. Since that defeat in Barcelona, Spartak have won three league games in a row and are just four points off the top of their domestic table.

In stark contrast to their home form against the best Europe has to offer, the SPL champions' recent history in this competition tells you that they continually struggle away from home to get the kind of victories that can make all the difference.

The result in Moscow will go a long way to determine whether Celtic have a chance of finishing second in the group or, perhaps more realistically, are eyeing third spot and a place in the Europa League.

back to top

Other Football Experts:

Latest Posts in Football:

Graeme Souness

Souness: Stevie still a star

Graeme Souness says Steven Gerrard would still get into the starting XI of any Premier League team....

Guillem Balague

Balague: Contenders not ready

Athletic, Sevilla and Valencia haven't yet got what it takes to crack the top three, says Guillem Balague....

Gary Neville

Neville blames Toon signings

Gary Neville says Newcastle boss Alan Pardew is suffering for failing to sign enough experience....

Latest News RSS feeds

Pardew job safe for now

Sky sources understand that Alan Pardew’s job as manager of Newcastle United remains safe for the time being.

Sporting v Chelsea preview

Sporting Lisbon host Chelsea at the Estadio Jose Alvalade in the Champions League with both chasing a first Group G win.

Manchester City v Roma preview

Premier League champions Manchester City welcome Roma to the Etihad Stadium for their Champions League Group E clash.

United hit by Herrera injury

Manchester United have confirmed that Ander Herrera suffered a fractured rib against West Ham on Saturday.

Arsenal get Wilshere boost

Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere has trained ahead of Wednesday's Champions League clash with Galatasaray at the Emirates.

Features

Champions League ones to watch

Champions League ones to watch

PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN V BARCELONA

Champions League: Andre Villas Boas has made a strong start to his time in charge of Zenit St Petersburg

Champions League: Andre Villas Boas has made a strong start to his time in charge of Zenit St Petersburg

“If we win all nine matches, Zenit will be champions.” The words of Andre Villas Boas upon being named Zenit St Petersburg manager in March seemed wildly optimistic given the circumstances.

Champions League: Francesco Totti hoping to star for AS Roma against Manchester City at the age of 38 years old

Champions League: Francesco Totti hoping to star for AS Roma against Manchester City at the age of 38 years old

If the country’s island mentality dictates that Zlatan Ibrahimovic had to score four goals in an international friendly for Sweden before having his genius recognised in England, then Francesco Totti really is in trouble. The Roma icon’s record on English soil is bewilderingly bad.