CELTIC take on Israeli outfit Hapoel Be’er Sheva tonight, looking to reach the Champions League group stage for the first time since the 2013–14 season.
Their opponents won the league title in their homeland for the third time last season and are competing in the Champions League for the first time. They defeated Greek side Olympiakos in the previous round before being drawn against the Scottish champions.
Here is all you need to know about tonight’s play-off round clash...
Where to watch: BT Sport 2
Probable Celtic team (4-3-3): Gordon; Lustig, Toure, Sviatchenko, Tierney; McGregor, Brown, Rogic; Forrest, Griffiths, Sinclair. Subs from: De Vries, Fasan, Dembele, Izaguirre, Bitton, Armstrong, Janko, O’Connell, Ajer, Christie, Ciftci, Johansen. Unavailable: Boyata, Simunovic, Roberts (all injured) Ambrose (not included in Champions League squad).
Team news: Nir Bitton returns from injury along with Erik Sviatchenko, though it is unclear if the Dane will take his place alongside Kolo Toure or if Brendan Rodgers will opt for the less experienced Eoghan O’Connell. Efe Ambrose’s Celtic career appears to be nearing its end after he was dropped from their Champions League squad and replaced by goalkeeper Dorus de Vries, signed recently from Nottingham Forest. Rodgers has plenty of options further ahead and should stick with Scott Sinclair and Tom Rogic after their performances in the demolition of Motherwell. Rodgers favoured Leigh Griffiths as a lone-striker in their previous Champions League tie, which means Moussa Dembele could have to make do with a place on the bench again.
Probable Hapoel Be’er Sheva team (5-4-1): Goresh; Bitton, Ohayon, Ribeiro Soares, Taha, Davidzade; Melikson, Brown, Ogu, Nwakaeme; Sahar. Subs from: Haimov, Palhano Soares, Shabtay, Buzaglo, Radi, Broun, Rubin, Maranhao, Vitor, Turgeman, Rahamin, Unavailable: Barda (injured)
Team news: Hapoel will be without their injured captain Elyaniv Barda and have Ben Sahar, once of Chelsea, and Lucio Maranhao as options to replace him. Defender Miguel Vitor is not 100 per cent fit but should make the squad, Matan Ohayon could start in his place. As they did versus Olympiakos, Hapoel will look to setup defensively with five across the back and four in midfield. They will hope to do better than Mark McGhee’s Motherwell, who visited Celtic Park a week ago in a similar set up and lost five goals.
Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)
Celtic key player: The obvious choice to get goals is the potent Leigh Griffiths, however, the recent form of Scott Sinclair is ikely to excite the Celtic support even more. Sinclair has scored two goals in just one start and one substitute appearance and has already shown an ability to run directly at opponents at pace and can dribble either side of them.
Hapoel Be’er Sheva key player: With captain Elyaniv Barda and defensive linchpin Miguel Vitor injured, Hapoel will be looking to one of their other players to take on the responsibility. Nigerian forward Anthony Nwakaeme could be trouble Celtic’s defensive frailties, and help bring about that crucial away goal, as he drifts from the left towards his more natural central position.
Previous meetings: No previous meetings.
Odds: Celtic 4/5 Draw 13/5 Hapoel Be’er Sheva 4/1 (odds from McBookie)
What Brendan Rodgers is saying: “They are very, very workmanlike, they really make it difficult for you to score goals, they play five along the back and the goalkeeper is six. The two defensive midfield players are eight and the two guys on the sides filter back to make it ten or sometimes even 11 behind the ball.
“Astana were not like that, but we still had moments in that tie where they were sat in. It provides us with a different challenge. Hapoel are very much a team that are dogged, very robust and happy to defend without the ball. We have to be patient, we want to be aggressive and counter pressing will be important. And, obviously, when you have chances at this level you have to take them.” (The Scotsman)