One round successfully negotiated, and now we’re hosting Rosenborg in the next round. It’s going to be tricky with a patchwork defence and limited options up front, so can we get past this next challenge?
Wait… haven’t we been here before?
Twelve months ago, Celtic saw off Linfield with ease and were next drawn against Rosenborg. In a goalless draw at Celtic Park, the defence consisted of Jozo Simunovic partnering Kristoffer Ajer who was making his competitive debut for Celtic. Mikael Lustig and Kieran Tierney were either side of the pair. Up front… there was no one. Moussa Dembele was injured and out until September, Leigh Griffiths was suspended for getting drunk on the Buckfast that was thrown at him in Belfast and tying his scarf to the goalpost, and we had no other strikers at the time so Tom Rogic was the makeshift striker.
The fact we conceded no goals that night was probably more of a surprise than the fact it took us until the 77th minute to have a shot on target. Truth be told, we were fortunate on the night not to concede. As well as Ajer did, Rosenborg has a couple of terrific chances towards the end of the second half that they really should have taken. The fact they didn’t meant that James Forrest was able to get a crucial away goal in the second leg and although Rosenborg never actually scored, that goal came at just the right time to kill their spirit. Knowing they needed two meant they weren’t really up for getting one.
Incidentally, that second leg saw Erik Sviatchenko partnering Simunovic for just 25 minutes before he went off injured and Nir Bitton took his place. I’ve seen several people suggest we played Bitton and Ajer together against Rosenborg, but actually that partnership didn’t happen until the away game in Astana, and I’d rather not think about how that went right now!
We’re slightly better off this season up front in that we have Odsonne Edouard available, but once more Dembele is out injured for a few weeks and joins Leigh Griffiths in the treatment room. Last season’s goal hero Forrest will be around too, while Tom Rogic might just be available in his more natural position. Start to include Callum McGregor, Olivier Ntcham and Scott Sinclair and we’ve probably got more of a goal threat this time around.
However, if we’re better up top then we’re probably worse off at the back. Ajer will likely be joined by Jack Hendry in defence after Simunovic got himself suspended in the second leg against Alashkert. That sending off wasn’t too bad on the night, but it could still cause us a major headache in this round. With Dedryck Boyata not back from celebrating third place in the World Cup, and Mikael Lustig only arriving back this week, we’re even shorter at the back than usual.
If Hendry and Ajer are playing in the centre, who is playing at right back? Anthony Ralston? Cristian Gamboa? Kieran Tierney is one again the only real mainstay of our defence. It seems to have been like that for over a year now, why haven’t we strengthened that position already? We’re even a Sviatchenko down on last season for goodness sake!
Rosenborg are a bit worse off too though. They sacked their manager last week after scraping past Valur in the previous round. And it was definitely a scrape. As we were cruising past Alashkert, Rosenborg needed an exceedingly dodgy 94th minute penalty to avoid going out on away goals.
Sacking manager Kare Ingebrigsten has not gone down well in the ranks. Reports suggest that the Rosenborg squad have petitioned for him to be reinstated, but they’ll hope for the academy director Rini Coolen to pull them together in time for this second qualifying round tie.
Rosenborg will once again look to Niklas Bendtner for goals against us, although clearly he failed to do that last year against us. The trouble with Bendtner is that he can be absolutely garbage one game, and then do something brilliant the next. Well he was garbage against us last year, so hopefully we’re not going to get his brilliance this time around.
The good news is that Samuel Adegbenro, Rosenborg’s star winger, is out injured and won’t feature in this tie. The fact they conceded twice to the Icelandic champions might also give us encouragement.
We’ve got past our relatively easy tie, but it’s only going to get harder from here. Rosenborg will be tricky, and we could really do without injuries in key positions. Should we get past them, AEK Athens lie in wait. Such is the way the draws work, we also know that if we don’t get past them then we’d face Cork City in the Europa League qualifiers.
I’m pretty sure we’d much rather go to Athens than Cork, but before either of those it’s Trondheim next week. If we can take a clean sheet there as we did last year then we’ll be doing well, but somehow I suspect what we’ll need to do is take a lead because we might not be keeping the ball out of our own net this time round.
Then again, maybe this is Jack Hendry’s turn to show us what he can do. He need only look to his partner Ajer to get inspiration for a good performance against Rosenborg. That start for Ajer later saw him become pretty much our most trusted defender. It would be nice to have a few more of those in the coming campaigns.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)