A Guest Article By Rian Watson
Celtic’s remarkably indifferent form on the domestic front must be put to one side as they prepare to take on Spartak Moscow in a make-or-break clash for their Champions League campaign. The Hoops’ destiny will be partially out of their own hands however, as they must better Benfica’s result on Wednesday night to progress to the knockout stages. Although Celtic aren’t in control of their own fate, they do leave a part of it in the well capable hands of Barcelona at the Nou Camp, which isn’t a bad option to have.
The general consensus for the last match of the group stage is that Celtic must avoid defeat to Spartak Moscow in Glasgow, with a victory not being crucial, and all the while remain optimistic that Barcelona can do what they do best.Spartak Moscow travel to Celtic Park having endured somewhat of a crisis in the past month. Unai Emery, who had only taken charge of Spartak on the 13th of May, was sacked on November 25th after a poor run of form for the Moscow club. Valery Karpin, the man who led Spartak to a runners up position in the Russian Premier League last year, is now temporarily back at the helm. He first took charge of Spartak Moscow in April 2009 after succeeding Michael Laudrup.
Although Karpin declared his resignation from the managerial post on the 18th of April 2011, after leading the club to one of the worst starts to a season in their history, he maintained the position as coach until his successor could be found. In Spartak’s last four matches they have drawn once, against Volga, and been defeated three times; 3-0 against Barcelona, 5-1 in a local derby against Dinamo Moscow (Emery’s final game in charge) and 4-2 to Zenit St. Petersburg, with each defeat occurring on home soil. Barcelona’s thrashing of Spartak meant they were eliminated from European competition altogether, but Celtic players and fans alike must remain cautious. The pain of Celtic’s victory at the Luzhniki Stadium will still be fresh in the memory for the men from Moscow, and the possibility of denying Celtic a place in the last 16 will seem a sweet assertion of revenge.
There is only so long that the undeniably talented team that is Spartak Moscow can be left licking their wounds, before picking themselves up and getting back to winning ways. The tie will surely be too close to call, for even the most optimistic Celtic fan. The Hoops maintain a fantastic home record in the Champions League, and defeating (arguably) the greatest team in the world at Park Head proved this. However, recent results for Celtic are probably leaving the fans scratching their heads. Since Celtic battled for a famous victory against Barcelona, they’ve drawn 1-1 at home to St. Johnstone, defeated Aberdeen 2-0 away, lost 2-1 away at Benfica, been beaten at home 1-0 by Inverness, defeated Hearts 4-0 away and drew 1-1 with Arbroath at home.
This mixed bag of results gives us absolutely no indication as to which Celtic side will turn up to face Spartak Moscow in the decisive game of the group. Lennon will most likely stick with the same line-up that he sent out to play Benfica, although Celtic’s star player Victor Wanyama will be banned from the tie after picking up a booking in that tie and Scott Brown may remain doubtful for a starting place after his recent injury woes.
The Celtic manager will also be hopeful that James Forrest can win his race to fitness and at least make an impact from the bench, as he did in Russia to devastating effect. No matter what team Neil Lennon sends out, the Celtic faithful will be right behind them and Celtic Park will undoubtedly be rocking once again. If ever Celtic needed their 12th man, it will be then. The Europa League beckons for either Celtic or Benfica, but neither will want to settle for it.