Celtic takes on Helsingborgs IF in the second leg of their Champions League playoff tie at Celtic Park tomorrow night.
Just like the first leg, and the two ties against HJK Helsinki before it, this is the biggest match of Celtic’s season.
With a two-goal lead from the match in Helsingborg, Celtic are in pretty good shape and are clear favourites to progress into the group stages for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
A convincing win away to Inverness Caledonian Thistle at the weekend has ensured Celtic retain the feel-good factor from that first leg but is of only limited use in assessing how they will perform tomorrow night.
The two stars of the show against ICT were 18-year-old Tony Watt and 19-year-old Filip Twardzik, neither of whom are certainties to start against Helsingborg.
Neither Joe Ledley nor Beram Kayal will play after picking up injuries in the first league, and both are expected to be out for a few more weeks. There are also injury concerns over Thomas Rogne, Scott Brown and Kris Commons, none of whom appeared in the Highlands at the weekend.
Another player who won’t feature will be Mohamed Bangura, who has gone out on loan until December to AIK Stockholm.
The two-goal lead gives Celtic a conundrum. Do they try to put the tie beyond Helsingborg’s reach with an early goal, leaving themselves open to counterattack and the possibility of the loss of an early goal throwing the tie back into the balance?
Or do they keep things cagey for the first quarter of the game and adopt a more patient approach?
With a passionate Celtic Park crowd roaring them on, I would expect Celtic to attack from the get-go.
Helsingborg may feel they have nothing to lose and will certainly not consider progression beyond them. If they can score first, it would make for an uncomfortable evening for Celtic.
I expect Celtic to line up in their familiar 4-4-2 formation, and assuming everyone is fit, the team could be: Forster, Matthews, Mulgrew, Rogne, Izaguirre, Forrest, Brown, Wanyama, Samaras, Commons and Hooper.
On the other hand, Mikael Lustig could come in at right-back with Adam Matthews pushed forward into midfield at the expense of Forrest, who is not yet at 100-percent fitness.
Should the injured trio not make it, the lineup could change with Wilson coming in for Rogne, Twardzik for Brown and McCourt for Commons—McCourt lining up on the left of midfield with Samaras moving up top to partner Hooper in the forward line.
Both Watt and Twardzik will be in the squad and should feature at some point if they do not make the starting XI.
The return of Victor Wanyama for Celtic should plug the gaps so dangerously exploited by Helsingborg in the first leg.
Since posting a 7-2 victory over Kalmar on August 12, Helsingborg have lost three matches on the spin, the first-leg loss to Celtic being sandwiched by a 1-2 loss to Elfsborg on August 18 and a 1-3 defeat to Djurgarden on August 25.
Recent signings Alejandro Bedoya and Nikola Djurdic both opened their scoring accounts in those matches, and they will be hoping to add to their tallies against Celtic.
Helsingborg's lineup could be Hansson, Sadiku, Krafth, Nordmark, Uronen, Andersson, Mahlangu, Gashi, Bedoya, Djurdic and Sorum.
Taking into account the recent form of both sides, my prediction is that Celtic will go through to the group stages, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some thrills and spills along the way.
While 2-0 seems a commanding lead, it could become a precarious one if Helsingborg open the scoring—especially if they do so early on.
If we know anything about Celtic in Europe, it is that things rarely go smoothly, and in Helsingborg they face an opponent perfectly capable of causing an upset.
Follow Daniel O'Connell on twitter @DanielOConnel18
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