Two former European Champions who haven’t been to the knockout stage in quite some time open the crucial stage in the Champions League season, as Celtic, free of domestic league title chase worries, host Juventus, who are a bit busier with their own battles in Italy.
There hasn’t been a single match in the Champions League this season in which Chelsea weren’t the underdogs, but they didn’t lose at home, drawing with Benfica, beating Spartak Moscow and also Barcelona, in probably the biggest match and victory the club has had in quite some time, with the energy and atmosphere created by the fans invading living room across the world.
How important is league form when you’re playing in the SPL? Not that much, but it still matters to head into the biggest match of the season, thus far, with some good vibrations, and as few injuries as possible. No one is ruled out for Celtic in this one – Georgios Samaras is game time decision, and so is Emilio Izaguirre. Efe Ambrose, returning triumphant from the Africa Cup of Nations, might not start because he hasn’t been with the team in quite a while. Besides the confidence from this season, Celtic have lost only twice in their 23 home matches in the Champions League, including two wins against Juventus, the last of which was in 2001.
Gianluigi Buffon is the only player on both sides that played in that match 12 years ago, and he needs to hope his defense, still without Giorgio Chiellini, will be as good as they were in the group stage (conceding only four), bouyed by their two consecutive wins in the Serie A, finally scoring more than one goal in consecutive matches. The fact that Claudio Marchisio is healthy and Kwadwo Asamoah is back from Africa is also a huge boost to a team that looked slightly groggy with so many missing players over the last few weeks.
Prediction – It’s almost impossible to beat Celtic at Celtic Park in Europe, but Juventus are just one of those sides that aren’t that effected by home & away, playing well at Stamford Bridge and Donetsk earlier this season, going undefeated in the group stage. Celtic are usually worth a goal, even against the best of defenses, at home, but probably not good enough to beat a team that won’t open up so easily as others. A draw looks like the likely outcome.
Speculated lineups – Celtic: Forster; Izaguirre, Wilson, Lustig, Matthews; Mulgrew, Wanyama, Brown; Forrest, Hooper, Samaras. Juventus – Buffon; Bonucci, Barzagli, Caceres; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, Asamoah; Vucini, Giovinco.