Celtic vs Manchester City: Match Preview
Hoops all set to face Aguero and co in another classic 'Battle of Britain' tie
Wednesday 28th September, 2016
UEFA Champions League Group stage matchday 2
With a fortnight having now passed since Celtic's rude awakening in the Nou Camp, Rodgers' side are preparing for another stern test on matchday 2 of the Champions League, against Pep Guardiola's red hot Manchester City side. Wednesday night will see the first competitive clash between the two sides, with Celtic never having previously came up against the light blues in their long and illustrious European history. This of course is largely due to the fact that City have only recently stepped onto the European scene, almost entirely thanks to the Billions put on offer by Sheikh Mansour, the club's stupidly rich Middle Eastern owner.
Although the Celtic defence will still be recovering from their encounter against the World's best front 3, the task here will only get slightly easier. Sergio Aguero is City's star man amongst a team full of seasoned pro's. The little Argentine is arguably in the same bracket as Luis Suarez when fully fit and firing and will head into this game in exactly that sort of form. Those around him may not be on the same level as Neymar or Messi, however they are still several classes above the type of opposition this Celtic squad are used to facing week in week out in Scotland.
David Silva, Raheem Sterling, Ilkay Gundogan, Nolito and Leroy Sane are a few of the added dangers Celtic players will have to be wary of. It is not all good news for City however, as they will be without one very crucial cog in their machine for the trip North. Kevin De Bruyne has picked up a hamstring injury and the Belgian will be missing for the foreseeable future as a result. Make no mistake about it, this is a big blow, even to a side with the riches of City. He has carried on his scintilating form this season under Pep and is, in my opinion anyway, the best midfielder in Europe currently.
Guardiola has often spoke of his admiration for the atmosphere at Celtic Park and is certainly relishing the chance to manage in one of Europe's top stadiums. The Spaniard has had an instant impact on the blue half of Manchester since his arrival and his distinctive footballing style is already imprinted on this side, just a few months into the job. I suppose you could say that Celtic are going from playing the real Barcelona to the English version. In short, possession may prove hard to come by at times throughout the 90 minutes.
Tactics: Guardiola has stamped his authority on the City side
With his players currently unbeaten and top of the table down South, confidence is no issue heading into this contest. Despite their resounding win against Gladbach in the opening week of the group however, City's European record is not all that impressive in recent years, considering the sheer amount of money they have thrown at assembling squads capable of challenging the very best. Yes, Guardiola in time may turn their fortunes around and go on to finally win the Champions League trophy that their owners so obviously crave. However for now the project is very much still in its infancy and Celtic do not have as much to fear here as against Barcelona, as obvious as that may sound. The task remains a huge one, of course. However the Hoops were written off by many as soon as their name was drawn into Group C so some will ask why have anything to fear?
Much like his managerial compatriot Pep, Celtic gaffer Brendan Rodgers has managed to very quickly ingrain his footballing philosophy on a side which for much of last season played well below its potential. As the Celtic players stood dejected on the Hampden park pitch after their semi-final defeat to rivals Rangers back in April, many fans could not have envisaged preparing to face Manchester City in the Champions League, a mere five months later. Yet, here we are. It is still early days, just like Pep at City, however the turnaround in such a short space of time has been magnificent. Rodgers is the first to say that there is a long way to go however, before this side is where he wants it to be.
The Northern Irishman has definitely galvanised this group of players while also putting his knowledge of the English market to good use in order to bring in several good signings in key areas, such as ex Manchester City player, Scott Sinclair. It is fair to say the English winger has hit the ground running since arriving in Glasgow with 7 goals already. He, along with on-loan City youngster Patrick Roberts, will be looking to make more of an impression than most against a club they know all too well. Kolo Toure is of course another one with connections to City, in more ways than one, with the veteran centre back having spent 4 years at the club as well as his brother Yaya being on the books at the Etihad. All 3 players could be key if Celtic are to take anything from this game.
Point to prove: Sinclair in his City days
The Celtic starting XI is likely to change slightly from the one which started the 6-1 rout of Kilmarnock on Saturday, with two main positions being discussed amongst the Hoops support. Firstly, the goalkeeping position is the main concern heading into this match. Dutch keeper Dorus De Vries has not impressed so far since arriving from Nottingham Forest with many critics claiming he is better with his feet than his hands, not a great compliment when talking about a goalkeeper. The man he initially replaced, Craig Gordon, could come in to start on Wednesday night after he was given 45 minutes in the 2nd half of the weekend's game. Although he himself has not been in great form, I would certainly say that he holds the better shot-stopping capabilities, if not being as good on the deck as De Vries. With city arriving in good form, shot stopping will definitely be more important in this one, you would imagine. At the same time, De Vries' passing ability which was so greatly talked about, has yet to really be shown anyway. Much of Celtic's success in European competition in recent years has been down to strong, dependable goalkeepers such as Fraser Forster and Artur Boruc. It is imperative that whoever takes to the nets on Wednesday, steps up to the occasion.
The second position being hotly debated is due to a much more positive reason. Leigh Griffiths and Moussa Dembele have both been in terrific form since the outset of the season, with both strikers hitting a combined 18 goals already, with us only just entering October. That form was shown once again at the weekend as Dembele dragged Celtic back into the game with a double and Griffiths hit a goal on his return from a calf injury. Both are very different types of striker and offer the side a varied array of attributes as a result. If I was to guess who will start right now I'd probably go with Dembele, purely due to the Frenchman having impressed since replacing Leigh a few weeks ago. It would probably be unfair to drop him at this stage, with him being in such a rich vein of form.
Griffiths' fitness must also be taken into consideration, as, after all, he has only just returned to the side and throwing him in to such a big game from the start could be deemed risky. Dembele also has the power and pace to really cause the City backline some problems and his ability to shield the ball could prove very useful as an outlet during the game. With all 10 of his goals for the club so far coming at Celtic Park as well, it appears that he enjoys putting on a show for the East End crowd and they will be hopeful of another come Wednesday night.
Who's it gonna be?: Griffiths and Dembele embrace
I am of course forgetting one other possible scenario, which is both players starting. It seems unlikely due to the quality of opposition Celtic are up against and also the fact that Rodgers has only went with both on a few occasions so far this season. It must however be given consideration as he may spring a surprise on us, however unlikely.
As I have stated already, Celtic are unfortunately up against it once more in this one. Despite being in good form themselves, they face a very strong and confident City side here and it would take an almighty shift for them to cause an upset. It isn't impossible however, nothing ever is in football. Better sides than this current City one have came up short under the lights at Celtic Park and the atmosphere inside the ground on a Champions League night has so often destroyed the mentality and confidence of many a great player. Whatever happens, it is sure to be another classic European night in the East End of Glasgow and with very little to lose for the home side, who knows? My head may be saying to go for a comfortable Manchester City win, however my heart is saying 2-1 Celtic. So, that is what I am going to predict.