Simunovic sure Celtic will thrive in high-stakes run
Croat adamant his team can handle Hearts, Aberdeen and Molde in quick succession
JOZO Simunovic, Celtic’s Croatian central defender, feels the Parkhead side can take the strain of playing the three matches in eight days which will define their season.
After an away League Cup tie at Tynecastle tomorrow night, the Premiership champions face a summit meeting with title rivals Aberdeen at Celtic Park on Saturday before a Europa League re-match with Molde the following Thursday. Three wins would ease the pressure significantly on manager Ronny Deila, and Simunovic – who made his domestic debut during the comfortable 5-0 win against Dundee United on Sunday – is prepared to play his part. He has no shortage of pressure on his own shoulders, with Celtic having committed to a £5.5m package to secure his services from Dinamo Zagreb, another team well used to having to deal with expectation from their fans.
“I think this situation is normal and the players that come here know that,” said Simunovic. “Every team faces scrutiny and you have to learn how to handle this pressure. It was the same pressure as we had at Dinamo – where you are two times better than the players at other teams in the league, but when you come to something better like Champions League or Europa League, then you can sometimes have a problem. The fans were criticising the club at Dinamo and really unhappy with the management of the team, that was the problem.
“I came here to play and I am going to contribute as much as I can to these next three games, especially,” he added. “I don’t know about other players, I can only speak for me. But we have good talks before the games and I don’t feel extra pressure, you can’t live like that.
“Put the money aside. For me, that is not an issue. What I want to see is how I can help my team-mates.”
Having been part of the Dinamo side which knocked Molde out in Champions League qualifying on away goals following a 4-4 aggregate scoreline, Simunovic is particularly looking forward to renewing acquaintances with the Norwegians. After a month out with an ankle injury, he travelled to Molde in midweek, but wasn’t risked on the artificial surface. He insists he felt Celtic were the better team.
“Of course it is hard to watch a game which the team is losing, but we can fix the situation,” said Simunovic. “We played Molde two times in the qualifying for the Champions League with Dinamo Zagreb and we drew 1-1 and 3-3 – they got three penalties, but only scored one! Of course we can beat them next week. I actually think we were better than them over there in Norway, but sometimes the best team does not always win. We played okay but they were scoring and that is just something that can happen sometimes.”
PRESSURE COOKER: Jozo Simunovic and his Celtic team-mates are braced for a three-game run which could have a big say in how their season pans out