Scottish champions Celtic face a tough tie this evening when they face Italian champions Juventus in the first leg of the knockout stages of the Champions League.
The SPL side have already performed beyond expectations in Europe’s elite competition, but can they continue their run and knockout the Old Lady of Italian football?
Celtic’s qualification from the group stages included a historic victory over mighty Barcelona.
The 2-1 defeat of the Catalan giants was their most important European victory in recent times.The Hoops were also unlucky to be defeated 2-1 at the Nou Camp against the Catalan club.
They now have to beat another European giant, albeit one with a lot less Champions League pedigree in the last couple of seasons.
This tie was one of the hardest that the Scottish champions could have been given. Juve had endured a difficult couple of years, playing in Serie B, before being promoted and clinching the Scudetto last season under highly-rated head coach Antonio Conte.
Conte has turned Juve into one of the best teams in European football, but many didn’t expect the Bianconeri to have such an impact on the Champions League in their first season back in the competition.
If Celtic are to progress into the quarter-finals of the competition then the Hoops must find a way to combat Juventus’ midfield trio of Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio.
The trio are fantastic and this season has been joined by former-Manchester United youngster Paul Pogba, who is starting to fulfil some of his potential in Turin.
Celtic’s midfielder anchorman Victor Wanyama has been in superb form in the Champions League this season and put in stellar performances in both games against Barcelona. The young Kenyan will have to be at his best again against Juventus if Neil Lennon’s side are going to progress.
Celtic captain Scot Brown will also be a key player, his guile and industry will be vital to push the SPL champions forward and give support to probable lone striker Gary Hooper. Although Brown can be rash at times he gives his all and wears his heart on his sleeve. He is the sort of player that Celtic need in clashes like this one.
English striker Gary Hooper will be given the task of leading Celtic’s front line once again. The 25 year-old has been impressive in the competition as the lone striker so far in Europe, proving that he has what it takes to play at the top level of football.
Hooper was intensely pursued by Premier League Norwich in the January transfer window, but Celtic were believed to have turned down three offers for the former-Scunthorpe man, as they aimed to keep their main man for the all-important games against Juventus.
Hooper had also been linked with a move to Juventus before the January transfer window shut and Juventus boss Antonio Conte has recently praised the striker, stating that he believes Hooper could excel in Serie A.
Hooper will once again be up against it playing against Juve’s tough defence though. They started with just one of their regular three defenders at the weekend, but still recorded a 2-0 goal victory over Fiorentina.
It may be a tough task for Gary Hooper to fire the Hoops into the quarter-finals, but he certainly has the ability to do so.
The Celtic Park fans could be a big factor in their team progressing to the next round. On European nights there seems to be an electric atmosphere within in the ground. The Celtic fans have helped their team through their European games and they could play a key role tonight if the hoops are to establish a lead ahead of the second leg in Turin.
Juventus boss Antonio Conte has revealed that he is not estimating Celtic and as you would expect seems to know a lot about Juve’s Scottish opponents. Juve really can’t afford to underestimate their SPL opponents.
If they do then Celtic have a major chance of making the quarter-finals of the competition. The Hoops have the spirit and quality to make it past the Italian champions and I definitely wouldn’t write Neil Lennon’s men off in this tie.
In the Premier League last night West Brom won 2-0 at Liverpool. The home side dominated possession for long periods of the game, but didn’t take their chances. Their best chance of the game came with just under 15 minutes left on the clock.
Baggies defender Jonas Olsson was adjudged to have dragged Luis Suarez down in the penalty area and referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot. The decision seemed like a harsh one.
However, West Brom keeper Ben Foster produced a superb save to deny Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard from the resulting spot kick.
The miss proved to be costly on 81 minutes. West Brom won a corner and centre-back Gareth McAuley headed home to give the visitors an unlikely lead. In the last minute it got even worse for Liverpool, as they were hit on the break, Romelu Lukaku firing low past Pepe Reina after a powerful surge forward.
The victory took West Brom above Liverpool into eighth place in the Premier League table and banished their woeful run of form to the past.
Can Celtic’s European adventure continue?