Celtic: Ronny Deila plots route to Champions League

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Celtic beat Qarabag in the previous qualifying round
Celtic beat Qarabag of Azerbaijan in the previous qualifying round
Champions League play-off, first-leg: Celtic v Malmo
Venue: Celtic Park Date: 19 August Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: BBC Radio Scotland MW & DAB digital & live text on BBC Sport website

In terms of Champions League pedigree, there is no contest between Celtic and Malmo.

The former have reached the group stages on seven occasions, while the latter have only qualified for that stage of the competition once. When resources are compared, too, there is no question that Celtic carry a distinct advantage, since the most expensive player in Malmo's squad cost £380,000.

The issue for the Celtic manager Ronny Deila is that these measures do not always directly impact on the games themselves.

The stage is set for the Norwegian to achieve a significant milestone in his career but he will be wary of making assumptions.

He learned two harsh lessons in his first campaign in Europe last season, that the expansive style he favours is too risky even in the qualifying rounds and that conservatism is often rewarded when ties are decided on the narrowest of margins.

The first leg of the play-off game presents a challenge to Deila, then, in that he has to balance defensive soundness with the wherewithal to create chances in tight situations. That is the dilemma of every European tie, though, and one that the side was well equipped enough to cope with in the last round against Qarabag.

Malmo played in the Champions League group stage for the first time last season
Malmo played in the Champions League group stage for the first time last season

Celtic would have preferred a more comforting margin than the single goal lead they took to Baku but the performance in the away leg was underpinned by organisational and mental discipline that provided enough certainty of purpose for progress.

Now more than a year into the job, Deila knows his team is better prepared and better able to cope with the demands of European competition but he is also fully aware of the test Malmo will provide.

The Swedish side's manager, Age Hareide, is a leading figure in Norwegian football and Deila is well versed in his achievements.

Hareide is one of only five managers to win league titles in three different countries but Deila shares a distinction with him too, since they are members of a select group of four Norwegians who have managed teams to league titles abroad.

For all that Celtic have the home advantage in the first leg, and ought to be confident ahead of a meeting with a side that has suffered patchy form at times during the Swedish league campaign, Deila will not underestimate the work of his compatriot, not least because it was Hareide who guided Malmo to their sole Champions League group appearance, 12 months ago.

"It's a new team compared with last season," said Pelle Nystrom, a sports reporter with the Swedish broadcaster, SVT.

Interviews - Berget and Arnason

"A lot of players went abroad for more money, that's the difficulty for Swedish teams, but Hareide is a tremendous match coach.

"When you don't think Malmo are going to do it, they do it. Nothing is impossible for the team.

"They have struggled with their defence this season, but they have a new guy, from Iceland, Kari Arnason, he's the man in the back four. He plays a very important role for Malmo. I think we'll see a defensive Malmo [at Celtic Park]."

Aberdeen fans will recall Arnason as a midfielder from the 2011-12 season and there are other connections that could resonate.

Jo Inge Berget spent six months on loan at Celtic from Cardiff but made little impression. He is now a key player for Malmo. Like Berget, Magnus Wolff Eikrem was signed for Cardiff by Ole Gunnar Solksjaer but played only 173 minutes for the club before joining Malmo.

The Swedish champions do not boast any individuals who Celtic need to be alarmed at the prospect of facing - the captain and main striker Markus Rosenberg is suspended along with another key influence in the defensive midfielder Enoch Kofi Adu - but the combined ability of the team should be respected.

Hareide has lost at Celtic Park before, with his Helsingborgs team in 2012, but he is a meticulous strategist and recently spent a day reviewing Celtic matches on video.

He will have devised a game plan to try to contain Celtic but there are aspects outwith his control and the home side's likely starting line-up will hold a significant height advantage over their opponents.

Leigh Griffiths
Griffiths has yet to start a game in Europe for Celtic this season

Deila has one pressing decision to make, in opting for either Leigh Griffiths or Nadir Ciftci for the lone striker's role.

Griffiths was a constant threat, as well as a goalscorer, against Inverness last weekend, but Ciftci has started all of the European games this season. One provides more of a cutting edge and has scored four times this season, while the other has yet to break his duck but is strong and more adept at dropping deep to link up play.

Otherwise, the Celtic team essentially picks itself.

The expectation will be of a commanding display from Virgil van Dijk, not least because his partner at centre-back Dedryck Boyata has looked a little slipshod at times this season. Scott Brown and Nir Biton will be typically robust and mobile in midfield, and the three attackers behind the striker will need to be typically industrious as well as creative.

Mostly, though, the onus is on Celtic to take control of the tie.

Under Deila, Celtic have won only two of nine away ties in Europe, so a significant advantage from the first-leg would raise hopes. Malmo, though, overturned a two-goal deficit from the first leg of the third qualifying round by winning 3-0 at home to Salzburg.

"Hareide, was very pleased with the [draw], he thinks Malmo have a big change to go to the Champions League because they are meeting Celtic," Nystrom said.

"Malmo had struggled this season in the league and the turning point was the win against Salzburg. That was unbelievable, nobody thought Malmo was able to do that, but they did. So it's a team with a lot of self-confidence at the moment."

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