4th December 2012
Celtic may be trailing Benfica on head to head record at the moment, but with the Eagles playing at Camp Nou, the Bhoys could qualify for the next stage with just one point from the Spartak clash. However, even if the Russians are bound to finish at rock bottom, they can be expected to put up a real fight at Parkhead.
There is now no denying Neil Lennon has done a tremendous job at Celtic with the money and players at his disposal, having become the first manager after quite a while to have found a cure for team’s travel sickness in European games. Solid showings in Moscow and Barcelona gave the team something to build on, while home win over the world’s best side will be something that Celtic fans will cherish in their memory for years to come. The brave performance in Portugal was not enough to avoid defeat to Benfica, but the most important thing is that the Bhoys are still in a very good position to qualify, as we cannot really expect the Eagles to triumph at Camp Nou even if Barcelona have already clinched the first place in the standings. Neil Lennon rested most of his starters at the weekend, but Scott Brown remains injury doubt. Victor Wanyama, James Forrest and Anthony Stokes are definitely out.
Hoping to build on the second-place finish in Russian Premier League, Spartak Moscow chiefs continued to reinforce the playing squad, while signing former Valencia boss Unai Emery to overlook the squad rebuilding process. The team started the season well, but soon began to struggle, as numerous selection problems took the wind out of their sails. As the new boss failed to sort out the leaky defence, Spartak continued to underperform, with Emery finally sacked last week. While club chiefs hope the return of Valery Karpin will shake up the squad, this change may have come too late, given that the team are already out of Europe and well behind Champions League places in the domestic championship. Nevertheless, the visitors should have enough motives at Parkhead, as they aim to end the three-match losing run and end their European campaign on a high. They will have to do so without Romulo and Jano Ananidze, but Valery Karpin hopes Aiden McGeady and Welliton will recover in time to face Celtic.
Celtic may be extremely motivated to win this game, but I am not sure they will have an easy job against Spartak. With Benfica unlikely to get anything from Camp Nou, one point should be enough to go through, and that is why I recommend backing Celtic to qualify for the next stage.
Verdict: Celtic to qualify
Best Odds: 8/15