Celtic travel to Bosnia tonight to face FK Sarajevo in Champions League qualifying action in what promises to be an intriguing tie.
Neil Lennon will take a depleted squad with him to the Bosnian domestic double winners as they begin their Champions League qualification campaign just 44 days after the 2018/19 campaign finished. Celtic will be hoping to make it to the group stages of the Champions League after missing out last season thanks to a third qualifying round defeat to AEK Athens of Greece. This year’s campaign should be interesting with Lennon at the helm given his record in the competition with Celtic in the past.
The first thing to look out for tonight is the full-backs. With Kieran Tierney officially recovering from hernia surgery (but the reason for his absence is as much about his impending departure as the injury) and Mikael Lustig, Jeremy Toljan and Cristian Gamboa all leaving the club it’s looking likely we’ll see youngster Anthony Ralston on the right and either converted-winger Jonny Hayes or Bali Mbombo make his debut on the left. Ralston hasn’t really impressed in his limited outings in a Celtic jersey but is the only natural right-back in the squad and he should be trusted tonight to start, but it’s fairly clear that the club is looking at other targets long-term. As for the left, Mbombo has been brought in to be the club’s first choice but hasn’t had a full pre-season so it might just mean we see the 31-year-old Hayes start.
Another thing to keep an eye on as the game progresses is the inclusion of Leigh Griffiths. The striker has been in blistering form over pre-season having returned to football following a break to deal with his mental health. Every Celtic and Scotland fan will be hoping the enigmatic forward can recapture his form from the not-to-distant past and get back to doing what he does best: scoring goals. Griffiths will likely start on the bench with Lennon opting for club-record signing Odsonne Edouard as his lone striker but it would be no surprise to see the 28-year return to competitive action at some point tonight.
The final point of interest in tonight’s game is Celtic’s creative youngster Mikey Johnston. The 20-year-old winger did well as the season drew to a close last year and clearly has the skill-set to step up and become a first-team regular this time around. The absence of Marian Shved should mean that the youngster starts in the three behind Edouard and it could be the start of a breakthrough season for the Scot. Johnston could be set for a similar break-out year that we’ve seen from the likes of Ryan Christie and Tierney in the past four seasons and it could all begin tonight in Bosnia.
Tonight’s tie should be exciting and there are definitely a few alternative angles to keep an eye over the 90 minutes.