JASON Denayer is optimistic Celtic have ironed out the defensive frailties which saw them concede six goals to Legia Warsaw as they look to take full advantage of their Champions League lifeline this week.
Barring any intervention from the Court of Arbitration for Sport, who will today consider Legia’s appeal against their Uefa expulsion from the tournament for fielding a suspended player in the second leg of their third qualifying round tie against Celtic, the Scottish champions will travel to Slovenia tomorrow for the first leg of their play-off round showdown with Maribor on Wednesday night.
Denayer, signed on a season-long loan from Manchester City, made his Celtic debut on Saturday as Dundee United were crushed 6-1 by Ronny Deila’s team.
The 19-year-old Belgian believes his new team-mates have recovered their confidence after the 6-1 aggregate loss to Legia and will be far more secure at the back against Maribor.
“We are now all feeling really good about the Champions League,” said Denayer. “We are going to play with a style of football which we hope will win the tie against Maribor.
“We believe the defence will be far more solid than against Legia. That was the start of the season and the coach is still new and some players are new.
“But now I think the team know each other better and it will be better in the games against Maribor. There is a real sense among all the players that we want to make the most of this second chance.
“What has happened with the Legia tie is now in the past as far as we are concerned.
“Now we are looking further, to win over two games against Maribor and get into the group stage.”
Denayer’s only previous experience of European football was in the Uefa Youth League for Manchester City’s development squad last season, with home games played at Hyde FC’s Ewen Fields ground in front of about 1,500 spectators.
His temporary move to Celtic has provided him with an opportunity to test himself on the biggest club stage of them all. “It is a massive motivation, the chance to get into the group stage,” said Denayer.
“For me personally, it is a dream. Ever since I started playing football, it is the tournament I have dreamed about playing in one day.
“Now I have that possibility with Celtic and I want to take it. I could never have imagined this a few weeks ago, when I was playing for the elite development squad at Manchester City. Now it is a massive change for me.
“The young City players go to all the home games in the Champions League at the Etihad as spectators, which was a good experience. But now I have the opportunity to get out onto the pitch, which would be amazing.
“I played for Manchester City in the Uefa Youth League tournament, but it’s not the same thing. It is the Champions League for the young players. We beat Bayern Munich 6-0 in one game and I scored, which was good. But there are maybe only 1,000 people at most at those games. Now it’s going to be a full stadium every time if I play in the real thing for Celtic.”
Denayer partnered Virgil van Dijk in central defence on Saturday as Swedish international Mikael Lustig was rested by Deila ahead of the Maribor trip. Despite scoring his first goal for Celtic just four minutes into the match, Denayer was not completely satisfied with his day’s work.
“It was a very good start for me against Dundee United but not a perfect one, because we conceded a goal,” he said. “Every time we play, we want to keep a clean sheet.
“The atmosphere was very good, I’ve never experienced that before. I hope it is like that every week.
“It took a little while for me to settle into the game. At the beginning, it was strange. But after I scored and got into it, it was all positive.
“It was good to play alongside Virgil, because he spoke to me a lot during the game. It gave me a lot of confidence having him beside me. I think we could have a good partnership together.
“There has been a positive reaction in Belgium to me joining Celtic. It is a big club, not just in Scotland but in Europe too.
“So everyone has been saying ‘good work’ to me now I’ve come to this club.”