More than anyone else in the Celtic squad, Ryan Christie will be licking his lips over the club’s Europa League encounter at home to Lazio in two days’ time. The attacker wasn’t involved on Saturday as Neil Lennon’s side turned on the style to slam six past Ross County and reclaim leadership of the Premiership.
His absence was a legacy of the two-match suspension received for his straight red card in the loss at Livingston immediately prior to the international break.
Christie will be missing again when the Scottish champions head to Aberdeen on Sunday, with the game completing his domestic ban. The opportunity to become active inbetween times as one of Italy’s most famous footballing names are hosted in front of a packed-out Parkhead cauldron certainly ought to cushion the blow felt from his out-of-character dismissal.
“It’s so frustrating to still be serving the suspension,” said the Invernesian. “That’s the thing with a red card, it sticks with you for a few weeks. But I’ve kept training hard and been doing some extra running.
“Everyone keeps saying to me that I am still available for the Lazio game as well so that means it’s not too long a break and that I can hopefully be involved. I’ve keep myself ticking over and it would be good to get the chance to make an impact.
“Lazio is huge and it will be great to get back to Parkhead after the Cluj game at home [three weeks ago]. We were all buzzing with that win and this will hopefully be another big European night. It will be a great occasion but we also need to match it with a performance.
“I can’t wait for it and I’m sure that goes for all the boys.”
There is the feeling that the tie – which gives Celtic the opportunity to cement their position at the head of Group E on the back of the draw in Rennes and the Cluj victory – will provide a sense of occasion to place it in the territory of a fabled Champions League night in the east end of Glasgow. Only Juventus, AC Milan and Internazionale have claimed more honours in Italian football than Lazio.
Currently lying seventh following a 3-3 draw at home to Atalanta that required them to stage a dramatic fightback after going 3-0 down inside 38 minutes, Simone Inzaghi’s side are a long way short of the club’s most storied team. That was the side of the late 1990s when, with stellar performers such as Sinisa Mihajlovic, Alessandro Nesta, Marcelo Salas and Pavel Nedved, they won the second of two Serie A titles in season 1999-2000.
The fact that Christie is still four months away from 25 means Lazio’s glory days are not imprinted in his mind. Yet, he believes that their name still carries a genuine weight, and they did lift the Coppa Italia with a final success over Atalanta in May. Moreover, in Ciro Immobile, they have the leading scorer in the current Serie A campaign, the 29-year-old netting nine times in only eight league appearances.
“Lazio are a huge name in European football,” said Christie. “I am too young to remember when they won Serie A and were one of the best teams in Europe. But I remember Simone Inzaghi and his brother playing from when I was younger. For me Lazio are an Italian giant, probably just outside Juventus. It will be a brilliant experience to play against them, home and away.
“When the draw was made for the Europa League, you see the big names coming out and you realise how much quality there is in the competition. These are the games you look forward to as players and we will be looking to get a result.
“It’s a massive match within the group and we have touched on that as a squad. In a tough section like this, you need to make the most of your home games and use that advantage. When we play at Celtic Park, we always look to get three points. The aim coming into the Europa League was to win the home games and then see what we can do away from home. We need to go and back that up now, and hopefully get a good result.
“It’s a competitive group and we have already seen that anyone can beat anyone. Cluj were fourth seeds but we have found out how good a team they are. We did well to get a draw in Romania in the Champions League qualifiers. Then you see them beating Lazio at home, so they will be looking to pick up points.
“Lazio and Rennes are also good teams so it’s a tough group – but one we hope to do well in. We have four points from two games but we want to kick on from here and get another good result.”