“My job is to go and convince the players that we can be competitive,” smiled Brendan Rodgers yesterday. The Celtic manager was in good spirits ahead of welcoming Bayern Munich to Parkhead. And why wouldn’t he be? With his side going into the game on the back of their impressive domestic form, he has much to be positive about.
For all his tooth-whitened optimism, however, Rodgers knows anything other than a defeat will be a shock. Bayern are rejuvenated under Jupp Heynckes and, even with Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller and Manuel Neuer missing, the odds remain stacked against Celtic.
If they are to manage a surprise result, the following three battles will be key.
Scott Sinclair vs Joshua Kimmich
“I hope he’s watching,” Scott Sinclair admitted earlier this month. The 28-year old was being coy about an England call-up but murmurs about his possible selection have grown in recent weeks.
Sinclair has been a revelation since moving to Glasgow a year ago, scoring 24 goals in 54 games. After scoring his first ever goal in the Champions League against Anderlecht a few weeks ago, he looks hungrier and fitter than ever.
Joshua Kimmich has faced worse, though. The 22-year old has enjoyed an astronomic rise in recent seasons, helping RB Leipzig to promotion to Bundesliga 2 in 2014 before being snapped up by Pep Guardiola’s Bayern.
Nominally a right back, Kimmich is accomplished in almost every position across the back eight and, in recent times, has evolved into one of Europe’s most talented players.
Scott Brown vs Thiago
Scott Brown isn’t nice. In almost all of his 435 appearances for the Hoops, the Dunfermline native has riled an opponent or provoked abuse from the away stands, and the Celtic fans love him for it.
Uncompromising as he may be, however, the 32-year-old remains one of his team’s best passers, able to control the tempo of the play if given the opportunity.
Brown must be at his best to get anywhere near Thiago though. The Spaniard has already lost to Celtic whilst at Barcelona and has warned his teammates to expect an ‘English-style’ encounter at Parkhead.
Thiago completed more successful passes than anybody in the Bundesliga last year, and he is more than capable of obliterating the Scots with his quiver of razor-sharp through-balls.
Kieran Tierney vs Arjen Robben
Run at pace, cut in from the right, and curl one left-footed into the far corner. Throughout his 17-year-career, Arjen Robben has made it look easy.
Perhaps it says more about Bayern’s dodgy recruitment policy that the 33-year-old remains so vital, but Robben remains one of the best wingers on the continent. Curiously, he has never received the acclaim that his frighteningly consistent performances deserved over the years.
It’ll be an interesting night for Kieran Tierney then. The young left back has been in marvellous form all season and, with Arsenal sniffing around, Celtic have moved to secure his long-term future.
Tierney offers real width in attack but he is less mature defensively and could struggle if Robben is given time to turn and run. If the 20-year-old harbours hopes of making it at the top level, however, these are the nights in which he must perform.
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