Bring on the Juve

Posted by Andy Muirhead

Celtic are huge underdogs going into Tuesday night's Champions League last 16 tie against Juventus. Look at the gulf in class between the two sets of players and also take into consideration the difference in spending powers between the Serie A giants and the Scottish Premier League leaders.

- Lennon: Don't underestimate Celtic

After Celtic's stunning victory over Barcelona in the group stages at Celtic Park, Juventus will not underestimate their hosts, but they may just be surprised at what awaits them at Celtic Park, both on and off the pitch.

Now, Celtic fans must get a sense of reality ahead of the game; Juventus are no pushovers. They are a very solid team from front to back and it would take an epic performance from Neil Lennon's side to take anything out of the two-leg tie.

Both teams were boosted with victories in their domestic leagues, Juventus beating Fiorentina 2-0 and Celtic defeating bogey side Inverness Caledonian Thistle 3-1, with nine changes being made with thoughts on Tuesday night's game.

Celtic and Juventus have faced each other four times in Europe with the score all square at 2-2. The first games took place back in 1981 - when the European Cup was for champions rather than a UEFA cash cow.

Celtic won the first leg 1-0, at Celtic Park on 16th September, before the return leg a fortnight later saw Juventus run out 2-0 winners to progress in the competition.

Then we witnessed two great games in 2001 as Celtic, under Martin O'Neill, battled the Old Lady of Turin in the Champions League. The first game saw Celtic cheated out of a point, as Juve secured a 3-2 victory - thanks to a disgraceful dive from Nicola Amoruso on 90 minutes. That lose signalled the famous O'Neill 'extraordinary' rant, but Celtic would get the chance to get some revenge. And they did just that.

On 31st October, Celtic welcomed Juventus to Celtic Park, with Celtic securing a 4-3 victory while every touch of the ball by Amoruso was met by a chorus of boos and chants of cheat. Henrik Larsson, Joos Valgaeren and two goals from Chris Sutton secured the points for O'Neill's men.

As soon as that Champions League anthem is played in the East End of Glasgow once again, you can put your history books away as form goes out of the window and what matters is here and now. Celtic may have been poor domestically this season, but they still lead the SPL by a massive 18 points over second-placed Inverness Caley Thistle and in Europe they have been superb. Three wins, one draw and two defeats was a great return in a group that many thought Celtic would finish at the bottom of.

The Barcelona result rocked European football to its core and Celtic must perform to that level once more and here's hoping the players are not overawed by facing the likes of Gigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal.

For Celtic, their key players - Fraser Forster, Georgios Samaras, Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper - must be on the top of their game, while the others need to put their bodies on the line for the club. There cannot be any passengers in the side, and while there may have been individuals slacking in the league due to the opposition they were facing, Juventus is another case entirely. If they cannot be inspired, boosted or put in the performance of their career against one of Europe’s great sides, then should they be donning the hoops thereafter?

The odds of Celtic winning the tie are sizeable, not impossible though. But they will certainly give it their best shot and the Celtic supporters will be cheering them on from the first minute to the last. Here's hoping Celtic can take a good result to Italy for the second leg.

For a tactical view check out Michael Gunn's tactical analysis preview of the game on STV Sport.

AND

Celtic were given an added boost ahead of the tie off the field, with their net debt reduced to a mere 130,000 pounds thanks to a massive 71% increase in turnover, all down to their run in Europe. A result that will make some folk closer to home eat their words after ludicrous claims and suggestions once again.

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