Blogs & Opinion


Missing their edge?

Celtic could suffer from the lack of a genuine title challenge, says Andy

Andy Walker - Andy Walker Posted 17th September 2012 view comments

On hearing that his men had been drawn against Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow in the group stages of the Champions League, Celtic boss Neil Lennon was convinced that it was a reasonable ambition to qualify for the knockout stages of Europe's premier club competition.

But after watching them lose 2-1 to St Johnstone on Saturday, it is so hard to gauge just how the SPL Champions will cope on Wednesday night when they open their Champions League campaign at Celtic Park against Benfica.

Tough one: it's crucial that Lennon's side start their campaign with a win, says Andy

Tough one: it's crucial that Lennon's side start their campaign with a win, says Andy

Five league games so far have produced just two wins and having conceded seven goals, Celtic languish fifth in the SPL table. There's no doubt in my mind that the players are missing the edge that a title race with Rangers would give them.

Gamble

With the Ibrox men banished to the fourth tier of Scottish football, I believe it's already showing in Celtic's performances that they miss the cut and thrust of a genuine title challenge.

Benfica drew at Old Trafford last season and know how to cope with a big tie. But having said that, I would never write Celtic off at home in the Champions League.

Andy Walker
Quotes of the week

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Celtic v Benfica

Wed, 7.30pm, Sky Sports 3 HD
Watch on the move with Sky Go
How to remote record

Too many of Lennon's players have lacked the correct attitude and application for the initial league games and it's a big gamble to suddenly cope with the demands that Benfica will bring.

Of course the Portuguese will miss Axel Witsel and Javi Garcia, sold for a combined £50million to Zenit St Petersburg and Manchester City in the summer transfer window but there's still enough experience for manager Jorge Jesus to call upon.

Remember, this is a side that drew at Old Trafford last season and know how to cope with a big tie. But having said that, I would never write Celtic off at home in the Champions League.

In recent years, AC Milan and Manchester Utd have left with nothing and with the eyes of Europe on them, the Celtic supporters are sure to put on an impressive show.

I doubt it will intimidate the stars of Benfica but the extraordinary atmosphere will surely put an extra yard on the stride of Neil Lennon's men.

Option

The biggest concern for the Hoops manager will be wondering who he can trust in such a testing environment.

Defensively, Charlie Mulgrew and Kelvin Wilson were exposed on Saturday and didn't get a great deal of help from Emilio Izaguirre.

Lennon may well be tempted to give a debut to 23-year-old Nigerian Efe Ambrose if the central defender receives a work permit in time. Clearly it would be a gamble but a partnership of Ambrose and Wilson would allow Mulgrew to play left back at the expense of a strangely subdued Izaguirre.

Up front, Venezuelan forward Miku failed to impress against St Johnstone and his partnership with Gary Hooper needs time to gel.

Lennon, of course, has the option of a different type of striker in 6ft 2in French-born Tunisian internationalist Lassad Nouioui. He replaced Miku at the weekend but is another who needs time to settle.

Although Tony Watt looks sharp every time I see him play, it would be too much to ask of the 18-year-old to lead the line against Benfica.

In Scotland, we've recently witnessed our World Cup campaign get off to a stuttering and stumbling start and it tells a story about our prospects for qualification.

Similarly, if Lennon's ambition of finishing in the top two of such a demanding group is to be realised, then three points at home against the second seeds in the group is crucial in order for those chances to be realistic.

back to top

Other Football Experts:

Latest Posts in Football:

Phil Thompson

Ultimate #One2Eleven

Find out who did – and who didn't – make the Soccer Saturday experts' best-ever Premier League XI....

Latest News RSS feeds

Mourinho hails Chelsea display

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho was delighted with his side's complete control of the game as they eased to a 2-0 Boxing Day win over West Ham.

Wenger: Giroud deserved red

Arsene Wenger admits Olivier Giroud deserved his red card for headbutting Nedum Onuoha in Arsenal's 2-1 win over QPR.

Premier League round-up

A review of the Boxing Day action in the Premier League, as Chelsea continue to set the pace at the top of the table.

Busy schedule angers van Gaal

Louis van Gaal is unhappy his Manchester United side must play again within 48 hours after watching them beat Newcastle.

'Matic can surpass Makelele'

Jamie Redknapp believes Chelsea's Nemanja Matic could be a better player than Claude Makelele.

Features

Boxing Day stats: Facts and figures from Friday's games

Boxing Day stats: Facts and figures from Friday's games

Chelsea fans received a late Christmas present, as the Blues produced a dominant display to see off London rivals West Ham in the Sky Live lunchtime kick-off, while there was plenty of drama to follow in the 3pm starts, before 10-man Arsenal defeated QPR.

Chelsea 2-0 West Ham: Blues are leading scorers from set-pieces in Premier League

Chelsea 2-0 West Ham: Blues are leading scorers from set-pieces in Premier League

Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian all shone as Chelsea beat West Ham 2-0 - but the Blues' threat from set-pieces can not be underestimated...

iPad app free trial

iPad app free trial

You can keep up to date with all the festive sport with Sky Sports for iPad, with a month's free trial available right now - ideal if you get your hands on a new piece of kit this Christmas!