Celtic will take on Austrian champions RB Salzburg at home, and they need to avoid defeat to book passage in the knockout stages of the Europa League. It’s easier said than done as the Austrian outfit are unbeaten in 29 games in all competitions this season and have already qualified by winning all their games so far. However, that can work to Celtic’s advantage as the away side might take their foot off the pedal in this inconsequential tie for them. Nevertheless, it’s still going to be hard for the Hoops as they were well beaten in the earlier fixture by three goals to one.
The Bhoys have hit some good form of late, and the fact that they are at home for this tie should give them enough boost. Here are three things which we believe Rodgers should do to ensure qualification.
Getting the mix of caution and aggression right
A tie like this is always tricky to approach when the team knows that just a draw would be enough to secure safe passage. However, Celtic shouldn’t fall into the trap and play for a draw from the offset. Brendan Rodgers tends to start on the front foot, and there have been many games in the Premiership where they have put the tie to bed inside the first half hour. It might not be as easy as the domestic games, but Rodgers shouldn’t look to tinker much with what has worked for them in the past few games.
They should start on the ascendency and look to score to ensure safety, and then the tie can be about game management from there. We expect the home team to come out all guns blazing given that they would be in front of their home fans. However, they shouldn’t overtly try to press the issue and chase the game as Salzburg have enough quality in their side to hurt them on the break.
Should Captain Brown start?
Talking about the elephant in the room, it seems like Rodgers does not prefer the veteran midfielder in crunch ties after his comeback from injury. The only time he started after his injury setback was against Motherwell where the Hoops suffered a late equaliser. Rodgers has already insisted that there is no room for sentimentality in picking the team and we believe that is the right way to go.
However, with just a draw needed, some might argue that the protective shield of Brown would be a good thing for the back four but Celtic are at their best when they play on the front foot and as the famous saying goes ‘attack is the best form of defence’. We believe the likes of Ryan Christie and Callum McGregor should continue to start in midfield. The other spot could be a tough call between Olivier Ntcham and Tom Rogic.
Of course, Brown can be called upon late on in the game if the scores are level and Celtic decide to see the tie out.
Get Forrest more on the ball in dangerous areas
James Forrest played the last tie against Salzburg almost as a right back in the back five, and that killed Celtic’s chances up the pitch. Also, let us not forget that the winger earned a red card as he failed to cope up defensively. Of course, this being a home tie, Rodgers should come with a more different approach and hopefully avoids playing the winger in deeper areas.
His ball-carrying abilities and the incompetence of Mikael Lustig on the right might influence Rodgers again to give Forrest the task of covering for the Swedish fullback. However, that way the club would miss Forrest’s attacking contribution and his finishing in front of goal which is also neat. For defensive duties, maybe the manager should consider a midfielder to cover on the right side if he is too worried about Lustig’s frailties.