RONNY Deila has urged his players to restore a sense of impregnability to Celtic Park as they bid to reach the group stage of the Champions League.
Ahead of tonight’s third qualifying round, first leg meeting with Azerbaijani champions Qarabag in Glasgow, the Celtic manager has stressed the need to improve their home form in Europe.
While enjoying a reputation as one of the most atmospheric venues in European football, Celtic Park has become a less daunting prospect for visiting teams in recent times.
Celtic have won just four of their last nine Champions League and Europa League ties at the stadium, suffering four defeats which included the 1-0 reversal to Maribor which saw them knocked out of the elite tournament last year.
Deila is anticipating a difficult test against Qarabag this evening but insists the time has come for his players to make home advantage count on a consistent basis.
“Celtic Park is our castle and we need to be kings of that castle,” said Deila. “That is what we are aiming for, to make Celtic Park the hardest place for other teams to come. This game is important in terms of what we can show as a team and to make the atmosphere better.
Celtic Park is our castle and we need to be kings of that castleRonny Deila
“I remember at the start of last season when teams were saying they don’t fear coming to Celtic Park anymore, that it is nothing. We eventually changed that last season and now we have to bring it back in Europe as well.
“We did play a couple of the European games at Murrayfield last season and it’s definitely better to be at Celtic Park, but we lost the game to Legia Warsaw at Murrayfield and I won’t use that as an excuse.”
Deila had mixed news to report on the injury front as Celtic prepare to try and earn an advantage in the tie to take into the second leg in Baku next week.
Charlie Mulgrew will definitely miss out as a result of the knee injury he sustained in Saturday’s friendly win over Rennes, so will be replaced at left-back by Emilio Izaguirre who has been struggling to find optimum form for some time.
But in the attacking positions Deila is boosted by the availability for the first time this season of playmaker Kris Commons who has been sidelined by a toe injury suffered in a domestic accident.
“Charlie is struggling,” said Deila. “The injury he got on Saturday is not big, so he will be available for the second leg next Wednesday. But this game will be too early. It was a late tackle on him but I don’t think that’s what caused the pain.
“I have spoken several times with Emilio over the last few months. It is, again, competition. It’s about development and using the right players at the right moments. Emilio is a very good player and has no problem about playing in this game.
“Kris is in the squad and that is important for us. He is a quality player with a lot of experience. It’s good to have him back. I think I’m already quite sure of 70 or 80 per cent of the team I’m going to pick.”
Among those selection posers are whether Leigh Griffiths or Nadir Ciftci is handed the central striking position.
While Ciftci started both legs of Celtic’s previous tie against Stjarnan, he has yet to score for his new club. Griffiths, by contrast, netted after coming on as a substitute in Iceland last week and has scored five times in pre-season friendlies.
“It’s a tough choice but it’s a good problem, if you call it that,” said Deila. “They are two good players and both of them can be important in the game.
“Whether I play them both up front or one comes on for the other or one comes on to play with the other, we’ll see during the game. I think Nadir has qualities to drop more into the spaces and be a link player and Leigh can be the threat. In some games, that can be a positive. We’ll see on Wednesday if that is a way we go.”
One man who won’t be featuring in Celtic’s Champions League campaign is Dutch winger Derk Boerrigter after Deila confirmed the former Ajax player is likely to move on during the transfer window.
The injury-prone Boerrigter joined Celtic two years ago but has started just one match under Deila so far.
“He has been back in training but he hasn’t been good enough for the squad,” said Deila. “I can’t say anything bad about his attitude because he is trying with the way he is doing things.
“But he is looking for other options as well and we will see what is happening with that. Now there is more competition in the wide positions and we need a smaller squad.
“It’s not only about width, it’s about wingers working both offensively and defensively. We need really hard work there and Derk is better offensively than he is defensively.”
Deila has refused to rule out letting 19-year-old midfielder Liam Henderson go out on loan again. Henderson spent several months at Rosenborg this year and has been linked with a temporary move to Dundee United.
“We will see what kind of options we have,” Deila said. “First of all I want him to play for Celtic.”