RONNY DEILA is ready to keep faith with Nadir Ciftci as his first-choice striker for the final stage of Celtic’s quest to reach the Champions League group stage.
Ciftci has yet to find the net in his four appearances for the Scottish champions since arriving in a £1.5 million move from Dundee United this summer.
With the Turkish striker serving a six-match domestic suspension imposed for biting Jim McAlister during his final appearance for United at the end of last season, he has been restricted to European action for Celtic so far.
Ciftci has started all four of their Champions League qualifying games and looks set to get the nod ahead of Leigh Griffiths again for the first leg of the play-off round tie against Malmö at Celtic Park tonight.
Griffiths has been used as a substitute in the four previous games, coming off the bench to net his first European goal for the club in the second leg of the second qualifying round tie against Stjarnan in Iceland.
The Scotland international has also scored three times in four starts for Celtic in the Scottish Premiership this season but has so far been frustrated in his efforts to earn a Champions League starting slot in Deila’s 4-2-3-1 formation.
Nadir is a different type from Leigh, but both are good playersRonny Deila
Deila has declared himself satisfied with Ciftci’s contribution in the aggregate victories over Stjarnan and then Azerbaijani side Qarabag in the previous rounds and appeared to suggest he will lead the line again against the Swedish champions this evening.
“I’ve been pleased with how Nadir has played,” said Deila. “He came from Dundee United to Celtic and a big club. He has gone straight into European matches and you can’t expect too much.
“But I think he has worked hard and you can see he has skills. He is a different type from Leigh, but both are good players and both will be important.
“It would be much worse if I didn’t have a decision to make between them. Last year we had injuries and the decisions made themselves, so I’d rather be making the decisions. Both Nadir and Leigh are going to be important in the game, anyway.”
Going into a tie where victory will be worth around £20 million to Celtic, Deila has the luxury of a fully-fit squad to choose from.
New signing Scott Allan was registered with Uefa before last night’s deadline and is eligible to play, but the former Hibs midfielder will probably have to settle for a place on the subs’ bench at best.
“We’ll see about Scott,” added Deila. “We haven’t picked our squad yet, but he is in the 20 just now and we’ll see what happens when we name the 18. He is a good football player, we have seen that already in training and I am happy to get him into the squad.”
Deila was not prepared to discuss potential further transfer targets, with Celtic being linked with a move for Dinamo Zagreb’s highly-regarded 21-year-old central defender Jozo Simunovic. The Croatian under-21 international could be seen as a ready made replacement for Virgil van Dijk who has been widely tipped to move to English Premier League side Southampton as soon as Celtic’s Champions League qualifiers are concluded. But Deila insists Van Dijk’s departure is by no means certain.
“I wouldn’t say that this will be one of Virgil’s last games for us,” said Deila. “We are in control of the situation and he is a Celtic player who still has a long contract here. I really hope we can have him longer than these European games.”
Deila also backed Van Dijk’s central defensive partner Dedryck Boyata to shine against Malmö, despite the Belgian international making some basic errors in Saturday’s 4-2 league win against Inverness.
“People are taking about the last game against Inverness but that was just two things and Dedryck has been one of our best players,” added Deila.
“It can happen to anyone at some point and I haven’t seen it from him in the other games. He was one of our best players against Qarabag. I wouldn’t swap our two central defenders with many players in the world. We also have a good goalkeeper and we conceded no chances against Qarabag. If you attack, it doesn’t have to be that you are vulnerable behind. You have to do both and we did that well against Qarabag. Hopefully it will be even better against Malmö.”
Defender Mikael Lustig is determined that Celtic will not squander their opportunity to reach the group stages after passing up on two chances last season. After being handed a reprieve following their 6-1 aggregate defeat by Legia Warsaw in the third-round qualifier due to an administration error by the Polish club, Deila’s side then lost to Slovenian outfit Maribor.
Lustig said: “We’re going to make sure we don’t mess it up this year. We’re ready, we’ve been solid in Europe so far.”