Celtic can garner a place in the prestigious Champions League knockout stage if they can better the result of Benfica in the final round of Group G fixtures.
On paper, the Scottish champions’ task looks the simpler as they welcome a Spartak Moscow side in something of a crisis, while Benfica face a daunting trip to Barcelona.
“I want to win the game and then that'll mean Benfica need to win to,” Celtic boss Neil Lennon said, according to UEFA.com. “That's all we can do: play as well as we can. Our players will have their own focus regardless of the result of the other match. It's a big enough task without thinking of the results.
“If ten points get us through, then fantastic. Regardless of the outcome, we'll have European football after Christmas anyway, which was one of the targets.”
It would be a significant disappointment were Celtic to fail to progress, though, having raised expectations of doing just that with a memorable victory over Barcelona last month. Since then things have not gone to plan for Neil Lennon’s side, either at home or in Europe.
Celtic could have secured their place in the round of 16 with victory at Benfica two weeks ago, but instead took matters out of their own hands with a 2-1 defeat. Domestically, the Hoops followed up the win over Barcelona with a shock home loss to Inverness and come into Wednesday’s encounter on the back of a 1-1 draw with Scottish Second division side Arbroath in the Scottish Cup.
Lennon will be without influential midfielder Victor Wanyama for the crunch meeting with Spartak. Pat McCourt, James Forrest and Anthony Stokes will still be missing with injury, but Scott Brown looks set to return.
Celtic’s poor form in recent weeks pales in comparison to that of Spartak’s. The Russian side had already been dumped out of the Champions League after a disappointing campaign, but their domestic form has also imploded.
A 5-1 home defeat to Dinamo Moscow 10 days ago saw the immediate dismissal of Spanish manger Unai Emery. There was to be no instant lift under his temporary successor Valeri Karpin, as another resounding home defeat was inflicted by Zenit St Petersburg last Friday.
Former Celtic midfielder Aiden McGeady has recovered from a foot injury, but remains a doubt having picked up a knee problem in training.
D: Lustig, Ambrose, Wilson, Matthews
M: Brown, Ledley, Kayal, Mulgrew
F: Hooper, Samaras
Spartak Moscow (probable)
D: Insaurralde, Suchy, Pareja, Kombarov
M: Carioca, De Zeeuw
McGeady, Kallstrom, Jurado
Prediction: In many respects Celtic could not have wished for better opposition for such a key match. Spartak have look disheveled in recent weeks and , with little to play for, could fade in what is sure to be a passionate atmosphere at Celtic Park. There is always the chance that, with the pressure off, some of Spartak’s still quality players will put on a show. However, Celtic should still just edge a potentially nervy matchup.
Celtic 1-0 Spartak Moscow
Where to watch: The Champions League Group G match kicks-off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by MSG Plus, with a live stream available via Fox Soccer 2Go.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.