Champions League Celtic vs. Spartak Moscow: 5 Things the Hoops Need to Get Right
After a strong campaign so far, Celtic have every chance of qualifying as they head into their final match of the group stage on Wednesday night at home to Spartak Moscow.
It's simple: In order to progress, Celtic need to better whatever result Benfica manage to get away at Barcelona.
Few fancy the Portuguese side to cause a real upset and win in the Nou Camp.
In fact, the likely outcome is arguably a Barcelona win, meaning Celtic would need just one point to qualify.
Regardless of what Benfica might or might not do, Neil Lennon's side will look to impose themselves on the game from the start and do everything within their capabilities to progress.
Let's take a look at what they'll need to do in order to get the job done.
1. A Big Performance from Fraser Forster
A revelation between the sticks in this year's Champions League, Forster has saved Celtic time and time again, pulling off a number of key saves and bailing his side out in the process.
The English keeper has conceded seven times so far. But given that he has faced a total of 56 shots on target during his side's first five matches in the competition, and that he has been under an almost constant bombardment, this doesn't seem a particularly damning statistic.
Ideally Celtic will do enough to ensure that their keeper isn't called on too often, but it's reassuring to know he'll be there when needed.
A clean sheet from Forster on Wednesday night might well be enough to guarantee a place in the last 16.
2. Play to Their Strengths
For the past decade or so in European competition, Celtic have profited from their capacity to create chances and make things happen from set pieces and deliveries into the box.
As far back as their run to the UEFA Cup final in 2002/2003 under Martin O'Neill, Celtic relied heavily on their threat from set pieces. Without players of the calibre of Henrik Larsson to make things happen from open play, it's now even more vital that they capitalise on dead ball opportunities.
Once again the responsibility will fall to the likes of Charlie Mulgrew to get the deliveries right.
If Celtic are to score, there's a pretty good chance that this will be how it comes about.
3. Focus on Their Own Game
With Benfica's trip to Barcelona of such vital importance to Celtic's qualification hopes, it will be tempting to keep an eye on the progress at Camp Nou. That could be a costly distraction.
The Barcelona-Benfica result is only relevant if Celtic are able to get at least a draw. Lennon will be stressing to his players the importance of focusing on the task at hand and keeping up their end of the bargain.
The priority must be to ensure that they get the result they need; everything else will take care of itself.
4. Use the Ball Well
Celtic's impressive Champions League display this season has not been due to an ability to hold onto the ball and capitalise on it in crucial situations. They have not been dominating teams for the entire 90 minutes.
In only one of the five matches so far have Celtic had the majority of the possession: 52 percent on Matchday 1 at home to Benfica. In the other four games, they have had to make do with 43 percent away in Moscow, 26 percent at Camp Nou, 28 percent in their victory at Parkhead against Barcelona and 39 percent in Lisbon.
Spartak might look to keep the ball, but Celtic should be happy enough to let this happen as long as they remain tight defensively and are able to break quickly.
Speaking in Monday's Evening Times, Lennon stressed the quality of the Russian side, but was confident his players have what it takes:
Going forward they are a real handful. [...] We're going to have to try to win the game and we will wait all night if we have to for the goal. But we must emphasise the importance of keeping a clean sheet, and I think our players will rise to the occasion.
5. Cope Without Victor Wanyama
Victor Wanyama is arguably Celtic's most important outfield player. The Kenyan has played all but 20 minutes of their Champions League campaign so far.
However, he will miss Wednesday night's match following a yellow card in Lisbon and the resulting suspension.
Wanyama's absence will be keenly felt. He is so important in breaking up opposition attacks, dictating tempo and carrying the ball forward, Whether Lennon opts for Beram Kayal to come in as a direct replacement or looks to reshape things slightly, whoever steps in to replace Wanyama will be faced with a big responsibility.
Celtic's qualification chances might well rest on how well they cope with this huge loss.