A dramatic win over Kilmarnock has put Celtic in the driving seat en route to conquering an eighth successive Premiership title. But a first leg defeat to Valencia at the Celtic Park has set the Hoops on the verge of an exit from Europe. They have to overcome a two-goal deficit away at, Mestalla, and their poor record on the road indicates an uphill task on Thursday night.
Valencia, meanwhile, are on a five-game winning streak in the Europa League at Mestalla, and therefore, are favourites to make it to the Round of 16 of this prestigious event. However, the Bhoys would be playing for their pride and should deliver a headstrong display to script an upset.
Celtic are having a string of injury casualties with Tom Rogic ruled out of the clash with a meniscus injury. Eboue Kouassi and Daniel Arzani are ruled out of the season after rupturing their cruciate ligament whereas Filip Benkovic remains sidelined due to a leg strain. Kieran Tierney, however, is making a steady recovery from a hip injury but the midweek clash versus the Spanish big boys might be too soon to return for the Scotsman. Oliver Ntcham is a significant doubt with a recurrence of a hamstring strain suffered last week. Leigh Griffiths has taken temporary time off due to personal reasons and is unlikely to feature again this season.
Brendan Rodgers, the Parkhead chief, has been experimental with team set-ups but has relied upon a 4-2-3-1 formation of late and should retain the same irrespective of the outcome. It has made Celtic more balanced and stable all over the pitch and earned them some crucial points barring the first-leg fixture.
Manager: Brendan Rodgers
Although the gaffer has promoted Scott Bain as their new ‘number 1’ in place of veteran Craig Gordon, the latter should be brought back in action against Los Ches if the line-up is altered to keep the players fit and fresh for weekend’s Motherwell contest.
The winter inclusion of Jeremy Toljan has cost Mikael Lustig his starting role after serving for years as the Hoops’ right-back. The Swedish star, however, should be lined up due to his experience alongside Dedryck Boyata, the Belgian who has been solid in the heart of the Celtic defence. Jozo Simunovic deserves a nod over youngster Kristoffer Ajer to partner Boyata centrally. An injury to Tierney earned veteran Emilio Izaguirre a run of games as their left fullback. But the Honduran did not look comfortable last week and might lose his place to Jonny Hayes who was steady against Killie in a makeshift role.
Injuries have narrowed down options in the centre of the pitch and the former Liverpool boss might be forced to line up skipper Scott Brown and Callum McGregor together deep down the midfield. Brown scored a bizarre late winner versus Kilmarnock before being sent off, but the suspension would only affect domestically and not in midweek’s European encounter.
James Forrest has been a revelation this season for the champions of Scotland and must feature down the right flank to trouble Valencia on the counter. Ryan Christie, too, has done a splendid job as a midfield attacker and an injury to Rogic should see the Scotsman keeping hold of his starting role on Thursday night. Scott Sinclair, although a regular down the left flank, should be rested following a series of games and Oliver Burke, the West Brom loanee, could be tried out in a new role to weigh up his flexibility.
Odsonne Edouard is having a rough run and should be replaced with winter recruits Vakoun Issouf Bayo and Timo Weah available to spearhead Celtic’s attack. Bayo is yet to settle in but Weah, the PSG loanee, has been exquisite in limited minutes and deserves a chance to start the game as the lone centre-forward.
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