After hassle from Hearts, Europe will be Turkish delight for Celtic
Lustig looking forward to Fenerbahce after frustrating draw with Gorgie side
THE Europa League is a more difficult competition than the Ladbrokes Premiership, Fenerbahce are a more formidable team than Hearts and Nani and Robin van Persie are more lethal finishers than Juanma and Osman Sow.
Yet, Mikael Lustig is correct to speculate that Celtic will not encounter the same difficulties in their second Group A match at Parkhead on Thursday night as they did in their latest domestic fixture at the weekend.
Robbie Neilson’s side defended resolutely against the Scottish champions on Saturday to bring a run of three consecutive defeats in the league, and 10 straight losses against their opponents, to an end and earn a point.
Last season’s Championship winners could even have snatched a victory in injury-time had it not been for Efe Ambrose’s professional foul on Sam Nicholson – an infringement which earned him an automatic red card – as he burst through on goal.
Ronny Deila, though, called it correctly when he stated that Neilson’s team had “parked the bus” afterwards. The Scottish champions will not face the same challenge when they take to the field against their Turkish rivals later this week. Fenerbahce are reeling from a shock 3-1 defeat to Molde in Istanbul a fortnight ago and will be determined to atone for that result with a victory in Glasgow. Celtic can expect to feel the full force of their frontline.
“I think the fact they lost the first group game means that they need a lot of attacking play and three points,” said Lustig. “It’s going to be difficult, but, while we are a bit sad at drawing with Hearts, we need to lift ourselves.”
With Nani and van Persie, the former Manchester United players, expected to be in the starting line-up, Lustig and his fellow Celtic defenders will have to be at their best to repel their expensivelyassembled visitors.
Given their unconvincing displays so far this term, at set-pieces in particular, there is no guarantee they will be successful. But the Swede, who has squared up to the Portuguese winger and Dutch striker on international duty in the past, appears comfortable with the challenge. Plus, he feels how the Scottish champions perform up front will be more important to their prospects,
“I’ve played against both of them [Nani and van Persie] before,” he said. “They are maybe a little bit older but they are very good quality and excellent footballers. But they will have nine other good players – Fenerbahce is a big club who has spent a lot of money so I’m sure it will be a huge game.
“It’s especially exciting for the fans. They see the big names from Fenerbahce and they prefer that. We could have drawn someone like Krasnador from Russia – a team that doesn’t have the big names but are still a good side. Hopefully we can get the European atmosphere that makes Celtic Park special and we can then respond.
“It’s a really big game and we need to stay focused and go through the group. We want to be in Europe as long as possible. When it’s a big team with big names in it then it makes it a little bit more special.
“We won’t get as many chances as we did against Hearts. When chances come our way we need to score, as we did against Ajax. In Europe, when we get opportunities we need to make sure they count.”
Despite their failure to convert one of the plethora of chances which they created against Hearts, Celtic were able to make up some ground on Premiership leaders Aberdeen, who lost their first league game of the campaign against Inverness.
The ultra-defensive tactics adopted by the Edinburgh side had much to do with that failure to net. But Deila’s side can expect to face that approach, at home in particular, most weeks. They have to be far more clinical to avoid dropping any more points in future.
“We wanted three points and the way we played – especially in the first half – it’s unbelievable we didn’t win it,” said Lustig. “In the second half they defended quite well, but in the first-half we should have had four or five goals.”
At the moment, Celtic can only field Nadir Ciftci and Leigh Griffiths in attack. Anthony Stokes appears to have played his last game for the club. With the Europa League as well as three domestic competitions to be contested, that is not enough.
Juwon Oshaniwa was one of Hearts’ standout performers. But the defensive move which impressed the left-back the most was the foul his fellow Nigerian internationalist Ambrose committed on Nicholson at the death. “It was a very smart decision by Efe,” said Oshaniwa. “If he’d let Sam go, that would have been the end of it for his team. It would have been disastrous for them. So technically, it really was a smart thing for him to do. He left himself as a sacrifice rather than lose the goal.
“For us, it was not a good thing. But speaking as a footballer, as a defender, it was the right thing. If he thinks, I’ll play safe and let him go, then Nicholson goes in and scores. Disaster.”
SEEING RED: Efe Ambrose is a picture of despair after being red-carded for tripping Hearts’ Sam Nicholson.