FK Sarajevo: Champions League Qualifying Starts Here

A little over 6 weeks ago Odsonne Edouard sent the Celtic support into raptures as he latched on to a headed clearance from Mikael Lustig before dispatching a shot past Zdenek Zlamal in the Hearts goal to seal a historic Treble Treble.  On Tuesday evening, the French forward will likely lead the Celtic attack against FK Sarajevo as the Hoops aim to get their Champions League adventures off to a flyer in the Bosnian capital.

Thanks to Scotland’s poor co-efficient standing, Celtic have barely had a chance to draw breath and properly reflect on the most turbulent of seasons in the current 8-in-a-row run before embarking on season 2019/20’s European campaign.

First up as Celtic aim to put right last season’s wrongs and qualify for the Champions League Group Stage is Bosnian champions FK Sarajevo.

POINT TO PROVE FOR DIVOVI

The Bosnian champions, known as Divovi (The Giants), in their homeland will be an unknown quantity for most Celtic fans and are perhaps best known for the crushing 8-0 home defeat inflicted by Atalanta during last season’s Europa League qualifying.

Thankfully, by way of providing some insight into Celtic’s upcoming opponents, JanefieldStreet.com spoke to the highly respected Bosnian football writer Saša Ibrulj to get the lowdown on FK Sarajevo.

According to Ibrulj, Sarajevo, who won the double last season, is the strongest side in Bosnia and also possess the league’s star player, 34-year-old attacker Mersud Ahmetović.  Style-wise, Sarajevo tends to control possession through a passing game; similar in style to what we have witnessed domestically at Celtic Park in recent years.

Sarajevo may have been mauled by Atalanta last season but Celtic should not expect an easy ride.

However, when it comes to the European stage, Sarajevo generally takes on the role of the underdog, adopting a more pragmatic approach, geared at keeping the opposition at bay.  Ibrulj believes that Sarajevo will allow Celtic to dominate possession and hope to hit the Hoops on the counter.

Good news though for Celtic fans is that Ibrulj also believes that Celtic will be comfortable favourites to progress over the two legs, especially if Celtic can score first and secure a First Leg victory, citing Sarajevo’s inability to recover from conceding first as a major flaw in their armoury that Celtic can look to exploit.

 LENNON’S NEW START

Like, loathe, or feel mildly indifferent about his appointment as permanent manager, Tuesday nights fixture against FK Sarajevo represents a new start for Neil Lennon as Celtic manager.

Coming in, as he did, to steady the ship after Rodgers acrimonious departure for Leicester City, Lennon achieved his primary objectives of securing the League title and Scottish Cup, thus promoting him to the first choice as the permanent manager for a tilt at 9-in-a-row.

Can Lenny take Celtic back to the Champions League? The journey starts here.

Despite securing the League and Scottish Cup, a major concern emanating from Lennon’s time at the helm last season was the drop in standard of play over the final two months of the season.  At the time, Lennon attributed this to mental and physical fatigue and his not wanting to deviate too much from Rodgers methods while also trying to slightly adjust the directness of Celtic’s play.

With the manager’s role confirmed on a full-time basis, Lennon can now fully implement the changes he wants to see and make the team his own this season; if performances don’t improve, there is now nowhere for Lennon to hide.

CELTIC TEAM LINES

It’s been a short summer, probably something we should get used to, but so far Celtic have been fairly active in the transfer market.

In have come towering centre-back Christopher Julien from Toulouse for £7million to plug the Boyata and Benkovic shaped holes in the backline; promising 18-year old midfielder Luca Connell from Bolton; and Belgian left-back Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo from Rapid Wien of Austria to provide competition and cover for Kieran Tierney.

The level of involvement of each of the new signings will most likely be dictated by their fitness levels at this stage of what should still be pre-season.  However, Bolingoli-Mbombo has declared himself ready to make his debut on Tuesday.

New Bhoy Bolingoli-Mbombo is set to make his Celtic debut against FK Sarajevo.

Also in line to make his Celtic bow is Ukrainian winger Marian Shved while wonderkid Karamoko Dembele may also find his way into Neil Lennon’s thoughts.

Absentees will include the now departed Boyata, Benkovic, and Lustig along with the potentially soon to be departed Olivier Ntcham.  The talented Frenchman recently caused a stir putting his future at the club in doubt after slating the standard of Scottish football, even though his own performances last season left a lot to be desired.

At right-back Anthony Ralston will be looking to capitalise on the departures of Lustig and Gamboa and make the position his for the coming season, starting against FK Sarajevo.

Elsewhere, the majority of the team will pick itself with Callum McGregor once again expected to be the main man in midfield making things tick with Edouard and the returning Griffiths the Bhoys charged with firing Celtic into the next round.

No game at this stage of the season should be taken lightly, as Lincoln Red Imps proved at the start of the Rodgers era, and last season’s thrashing at the hands of Atalanta should be taken with a pinch of salt.  That being said, Celtic will be favourites to progress to the next round and I would be very surprised if we are not lining up against either Kalju or Shkendja in Qualifying Round 2.

 

The full interview with Saša Ibrulj can be found here –  JanefieldStreet.com.

Saša can be followed on twitter @sasaibrulj

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