Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Champions League: Celtic v Benfica

A foreign bloke in branded leisurewear having a smoke outside Glasgow's Radisson can only mean one thing.

There's a football team in town and one of the coaches is plotting the downfall of some of our brave boys while looking as effortlessly cool as it's possible to look while indulging in a pastime that runs the very real risk of setting his Adidas training gear alight.

The studied nonchalance on Argyle Street has belonged to Benfica this week as the Champions League group stages return to Celtic Park.

Celtic revel in nights like this: 18 home games in the group stages of this competition have seen them claim 13 wins and suffer just one defeat.

If their Champions League campaigns haven't always brought sustained success, achieving parity with the great and the good of the European game has rarely been a problem at home.

But Neil Lennon is facing something of a conundrum before this evening's match.

Celtic predicted canter in the one horse SPL has started groggily. A meek defeat to St Johnstone on Saturday confirmed the worst start to a league season for over a decade.

Why?

Lennon suggested - and it was a chagrined suggestion - that thoughts of this Benfica clash might have played a part in Saturday's defeat.

Others have suggested that the players might be taking time to adjust to a league shorn of their rivals.

I might also question the wisdom of that Philadelphia friendly with Real Madrid after the league had started and when both the domestic season and the squad were already facing disruption for the last round of international fixtures.

More prosaically there have been injuries and what appears to be a collective loss of form among a few key players.

The manager will expect his squad to rise above that in the SPL but he'll also be concerned how this lacklustre start will translate into European performances.

In the parlance of such things he'll be looking for a reaction tonight. Without it Celtic could be in for a long evening.

The bookies would seem to concur. Celtic are 13/5 to win with Ladbrokes while Benfica are 11/10.

Domestic form, the depth of the two squads and Celtic's four years absence from this stage would certainly explain those odds. But they do seem to disregard the Celtic Park factor, the home advantage that so defines Celtic's European adventures.

Ladbrokes Game On!
The draw is quoted at 9/4 although the generosity of Celtic's defence so far this season would scare me off 0-0 at 6/1.

1-1 at 7/1 might well look the better bet.

I'm also happy to be influenced by the Craig Levein Equation: Craig Levein + Craig Levein questioning Player X's value to the Scotland squad = Player X doing something impressive.

In this case Kris Commons (Scotland's ninth best midfielder. Or is tenth best?) scoring first in a 1-1 draw comes in at 40/1.

Have a punt on that.

By the end of the night you might be just be singing Levein's praises.

All odds from Ladbrokes

Always remembering www.gambleaware.co.uk