Celtic 90 minutes from Champions League paradise

Posted by Andy Muirhead

After their 2-0 in in Sweden last Tuesday thanks to goals from Kris Commons and Georgios Samaras, Celtic will be looking to secure their place in the group stages of the Champions League for the first time since 2009.

However, with injuries to key players such as Joe Ledley and Beram Kayal, it will still be a tough test for Neil Lennon's men, despite the two away goals.

Thomas Rogne, Scott Brown, Georgios Samaras and Kris Commons are all available for selection after sitting out the 4-2 in over Inverness Caledonian Thistle at the weekend. Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama, who was unavailable for the first leg, also returns and is expected to slot into the centre of midfield.

With Helsingborgs IF needing at least two goals to take the tie to extra time and three to progress, the midfield battle will be key for Celtic in nullifying the threat of the Swedish side who controlled large parts of the game last week.

Celtic's defensive frailties were on show in the first leg, but the misfiring Helsingborg side wasted numerous chances in front of goal with a combination of their woeful finishing coupled with the superb form of Geordie Fraser Forster in between the sticks for the Parkhead side.

Parkhead will be packed out on Wednesday night with the Celtic faithful looking to see if their side can progress into the lucrative group stages of Europe's top club competition, money which will help Celtic not only reduce their £7 million debt but also help to bring in some fresh blood into the experienced side.

Likely Celtic line-up

There will be several changes from the team that faced Helsingborgs from the first leg. Joe Ledley and Beram Kayal will drop out through injury as expected, with Victor Wanyama coming into the heart of midfield alongside skipper Scott Brown.

Brown and Wanyama will be flanked by Georgios Samaras and Kris Commons, utilising their pace to cause the Swedish side's full backs problems and in the supporting role for the lone striker.

After Saturday's exploits, youngster Tony Watt has done his chances of starting on Wednesday no harm and could start ahead of Englishman Gary Hooper who looked a tad jaded in the latter stages of the league game with Caley Thistle. However, I would be surprised if Lennon drops his first choice striker for this game and will look to Hooper to get Celtic on the scoresheet before bringing Watt on in the second half.

The defence is where the frailties and weaknesses are most evident and the four selected players at the back for Celtic will have to be at their best to deny Helsingborgs IF. It is expected that Charlie Mulgrew and Thomas Rogne will link up in the heart of defence with Honduran Emilio Izaguirre at left back and Welshman Adam Matthews.

There is no surprise who will be in goals for Celtic - Fraser Forster. The Englishman who has been tipped to be called up to the English national side after his recent displays at club level, was man of the match for Celtic over in Sweden for me and could be the pivotal factor once again for Celtic's progression into the group stages.

Substitutes could prove the key

The turning point in last week's game was Neil Lennon's substitutions which turned the tie in Celtic's favour after the early goal through Commons. And Wednesday's game will see couple of youngsters give game time if the tie is secure by half time.

The first player who certainly deserves game time in the Champions League is Tony Watt. The youngster was superb against Inverness Caley on Saturday, his desire and drive to get on the end of the ball was infectious among the other Celtic players and having starred against some of Europe's top youngsters in the Next Gen tournament, Watt could be the unknown quantity that could open up defences in Europe.

Czech youngster Filip Twardzik helped boss the centre of midfield against Inverness, but I don't think he is ready to be thrown into the deep end right from the off. He could come on in the second half to give some tired legs a rest and provide some added drive through the middle to help kill the game off.

The third youngster who will surely come on is James Forrest. The kid hit the ground running last season and proved to be an exciting talent. He is far from the finished article and still has a lot to learn, but his pace, jinking runs and eye for goal would add to Celtic's attacking threat against a tiring Swedish backline.

I really can't see any other player coming on for Celtic on Wednesday night other than those named above, although it all depends on what does happen during the game and barring any injuries. Celtic do have a number of other options to choose from with defenders Kelvin Wilson and Mikael Lustig ready made replacements for Charlie Mulgrew and Thomas Rogne. Although both players have their limitations.

Another of Celtic's attacking threats could come from cult figure Paddy McCourt, I am certainly not a fan of his, but his runs and jinks in and out of defences excites the crowd and the team could feed off that to drive forward and peg the Swedes back. The other threat comes from Mo Bangura. When I say threat I actually mean a threat to Celtic as they would be playing with a man down. Since his signing, on the reported advice of Henrik Larsson, Bangura has failed to set the heather on fire with his displays, of course his time at Celtic has been ravaged by injury but the Sierra Leone striker will in all likelihood watch the game from the comfort of the subs bench.

As I said in regards to Helsingborgs, they need to score three goals to win the tie but I cannot see Celtic not scoring at home in front of a partisan crowd. So barring any major capitulation, players getting needlessly sent off or a horrific refereeing performance Celtic should comfortably see out the tie and in style.

Prediction: Celtic win 2-0.

ESPN Conversations