FK Sarajevo v Celtic: Match Preview & Predicted Starting Line-up
Celtic will kick off their season tonight against FK Sarajevo in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League, as they look to put last season’s failure to qualify for the group stages behind them.
With Brendan Rodgers’ departure half way through last season, Neil Lennon has once again taken the reins at Parkhead and will use all the experience he picked up during his first stint in the Celtic hot seat to help guide the club to the promised land of Europe’s elite club competition.
With Celtic staring at four Champions League qualifying ties ahead of them before they even contemplate paying the big guns in Europe, tonight’s clash could have been easier for the Scottish champions as they face up to the double winning Bosnians.
READ MORE: FK Sarajevo - The Lowdown with Saša Ibrulj
Speaking ahead of the match, Lennon admitted: “These are the most difficult games. The Champions League and everything that comes with it is brilliant, but the hard work is getting there.
“We could have had an easier draw, but the guys know what the incentives are and they know what’s at stake. We’ve had a good tour in Austria and Switzerland. The players are in the best condition they can be at this stage.
“We’ve got a couple of players missing. Jack Hendry and Marian Shved haven’t travelled - Marian picked up a small injury yesterday. I’ve had experience in the Champions League during my time at Celtic, as have these players. Qualification is one of our priorities.”
Sarajevo will not be push overs
Despite the second leg 8-0 hammering they received at the hands of Atalanta in last season’s Europa League, the Bosnian side had secured a credible 2-2 draw in the first leg in Italy and will prove to be no pushovers for a Celtic side that still needs strengthened at the back.
Celtic captain Scott Brown, issued a warning ahead of the game that the club need to be organised and keep their focus throughout the tie.
He added: “We’ve had a good pre-season, we’re in a good place and we’re looking forward to the game. We need to take it one game at a time, aim to get through this qualifier and hopefully head back to Celtic Park with a good result.
“It’s always hard, especially when you only get a few weeks, but the lads have come back in good condition, we’re looking forward to the game, and we want to be in the Champions League.
“For us, qualification is getting harder and harder each year, the season is getting longer, but we want to be in the Champions League. We can’t look too far ahead, though, and for us it’s about concentration. We need to make sure we’re organised. It’ll be a tough game, but we’ve prepared well and we are going in very well-organised.”
Celtic will call on what is a near full strength squad, with Olivier Ntcham, Jack Hendry, Bayo, Maryan Shved and Kieran Tierney all missing through participation in the European Under-21 Championship duty, injuries and recovering from a double hernia operation respectively.
New signings Christopher Jullien and Boli Bongoli-Mbombo could make their debuts for Celtic tonight, with Lennon looking to avoid any shock results - similar to the one that Rodgers faced three season ago against Lincoln Red Imps in Gibraltar.
Sarajevo have signed former Bosnia-Herzegovina Under-21 left-back Bojan Letic and current under-21 centre-back Besim Serbecic on loan from Rosenborg.
As mentioned earlier, it won’t be an easy game for Celtic - who are the clear favourites to progress. An early goal will not only settle the nerves of the Celtic side, but could break Sarajevo and ultimately end their hopes of qualifying for the next round - with Bosnian journalist Saša Ibrulj claiming that Sarajevo do not have the quality to fight back after going a goal down - even in tonight’s game where they will be very motivated and hyped up.
Predicted Starting line-up
Celtic XI: Bain; Mbombo, Jullien, Simunovic, Ajer; Brown, McGregor, Forrest, Johnston; Edouard, Griffiths.
FK Sarajevo 0-2 Celtic