Over the past few years, we’ve got used to playing European matches against sides close to home – Chelsea, Liverpool and United have all been recent opponents in the Champions League, and all three have knocked us out.
This time our opposition do not come from the Premiership, but north of the border, and some will say Celtic should be a breeze after watching us dispatch Rangers so ruthlessly in the Emirates Cup.
But football doesn’t really work like that. A poor Rangers side are nothing like a Celtic team playing in front of their own crowd in a Champions League match. The biggest names in Europe have been defeated there and it would be beyond foolish for us to presume a positive result.
That said, I’m confident. We’ve gone to tough places before, memorably when we silenced the Fenerbahce crowd last year, and I see no reason why we can’t do the same again. Keeping the ball is essential tonight, to quieten the crowd and take some intensity out of Celtic’s play. Do that, and the battle is half won.
But no matter how confident we are, it is fair to say this is the toughest qualifier we’ve ever had, and perhaps, given the national rivalry, the most difficult draw we could have had. Don’t underestimate the media – despite them swinging in our direction after Saturday’s result, expect doomsday reading if we look like we might miss out on the group stages. The Cesc to Barcelona stories haven’t even finished yet, despite all parties ruling it out, that would be one of a million ‘crisis sale” rumours if we crashed out.
Speaking of our captain, he is a doubt for the match, along with Denilson and Sagna. Eboue and Diaby may feature, but I would be surprised to see Cesc miss out, so those should be the only changes from the weekend.
I’d take a score draw right now if you offered it to me. That isn’t to say a win is out of the question, but unless Celtic take a lead to the Emirates, we’ll be heavy favourites next week.
My prediction? 1-1, with Arshavin marking his first European appearance for us with a goal.
I may be following the game on Twitter, or I may not – it all depends on whether I get to watch the match live or not – having a young family can often mean I’m pausing the action and watching it 15-20 minutes behind, in which case my phone gets switched off.
Wherever you are, enjoy the game tonight, it should be a cracker.