Celtic manager Neil Lennon has talked up his side’s chances of causing another Champions League upset as the Scottish champions get set for the first-leg of their last-16 tie at Celtic Park. Lennon’s side appeared to revel in their underdog status as they defeated Barcelona in the group phase and he believes they can defy the odds once more, up against the Italian champions.
“We have real belief going into this game—anything can happen,” he said, according to UEFA’s website. “Nothing will be decided after 90 minutes. There are two games; you prepare to play hard for 180 minutes.”
At the same time, Lennon is well aware of the threat that the Turin giants pose.
[Juventus] have got excellent strikers in [Mirko] Vuvinic, [Fabio] Quagliarella, [Sebastian] Giovinco and [Nicolas] Anelka,” he added. “They have a very strong midfield. [Arturo] Vidal has been playing very, very well. [Claudio] Marchisio is a world-class player and of course they have [Andrea] Pirlo who's still one of the finest midfielders in the world.
“So the team is blessed with fantastic footballers but they shouldn't underestimate Celtic. We've been massive underdogs since the beginning of the season.”
Juventus are looking to reestablish themselves among the European elite and are in the Champions League knockout stages for the first time in four seasons. At home, the Bianconeri look poised to remain the team to beat and currently lead Serie A by five points. Their domestic dominance has not been quite so pronounced this season, however, as they have already lost three games in contrast to their remarkable unbeaten campaign last term.
The man credited for Juventus’ revival is manager Antonio Conte, the club’s former midfielder who took over the reins in the summer of 2011. Despite their tag of favorites Conte is well aware where Celtic’s strengths lie.
“We're going to have to be very, very careful here tomorrow night,” he said. “I feel that a stadium of 60,000 people will be like a 12th man. Celtic are a very good team. To beat Barcelona here and to go so close at the Camp Nou is proof of that. If anyone's been underestimating Celtic, it's certainly not been us. We have respect for Celtic who, like ourselves, are back in the Champions League.”
The team news for both sides is dominated by the status of players returning from African Cup of Nations duty. Conte has dismissed the notion of fielding Kwadwo Asamoah, who played in the third-place playoff for Ghana on Saturday, yet Lennon has not ruled out the involvement of defender Efe Ambrose, just 48 hours after he claimed the title with Nigeria.
Celtic’s only other doubt is forward Georgios Samaras, who has a hamstring problem. Left-back Emilio Izaguire has been passed fit.
Juventus will still be without Giorgio Chiellini, while Paolo De Ceglie has been ruled out with a thigh problem picked up in the victory over Juventus on Saturday.
D: Matthews. Lustig, Wilson, Izaguirre
M: Samaras, Brown, Wanyama, Ledley, Mulgrew
D: Barzagli, Bonucci, Caceres
M: Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, Peluso
F: Vucinic, Matri
Prediction: If Celtic are to progress then a positive result is surely essential at home, where their European form is far superior. The priority for Lennon has to be keeping a clean sheet, with even a score draw giving Juventus a sizable advantage going into the second leg.
Celtic’s best opportunity to make headway going forward is likely to be down Juventus’ left, where the visitors will be weakened by the absence of Chiellini in their back three and Asamoah in midfield.
But Conte’s side are phenomenally strong in the middle with the trio of Vidal, Pirlo and Marchisio, who provide the ideal balance in the heart of midfield. Juventus’ away form in the Champions League this season has been mixed—playing exceptionally and drawing at Chelsea, yet also failing to be minnows Nordsjaellend. A similar result could well be on the cards on Tuesday, a scenario that should suit Juventus nicely.
Celtic 1-1 Juventus
Where to watch: The Champions League last-16 first-leg will kick-off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a live stream available via a free trial to Fox Soccer 2Go.