stefan Johansen believes Celtic are ready to home in on a place in the knockout phase of the Europa League this week.
The Scottish champions, who kicked off their Group D campaign with an encouraging 2-2 draw against top seeds Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, take on Dinamo Zagreb at Celtic Park on Thursday night.
In a section which also includes unheralded Romanian side Astra Giurgiu, Johansen feels making full use of the Celtic Park factor holds the key to securing European football beyond Christmas. “We need to aim for three wins out of three at home in the group,” said the Norwegian international midfielder. “We got a point away from home against Salzburg which is good, but at home we should aim to beat all the teams we play.
“We were disappointed not to get into the group stage of the Champions League but this competition can still be good for the team. We want to go through from the group stages but we need to win our home games.”
Johansen admits Celtic are still struggling for consistency after their hard-earned, often scrappy 2-1 Premiership victory at St Mirren on Saturday. But he took greater encouragement from the 3-0 League Cup victory over Hearts at Celtic Park last Wednesday night and is confident the team will eventually gel under manager Ronny Deila.
“We know it wasn’t the best game against St Mirren or the best pitch to play on,” added Johansen. “But we managed to get the three points and that is the most important thing in football. I totally agree with the manager when he says it wasn’t a good performance from us. “But now we need to be ready for Thursday night as it is fun to play in Europe. We played well at Celtic Park against Hearts, so we are looking forward to the Dinamo Zagreb game now. We need to step up our performance from Saturday, but the game is at home which will help us.”
Deila has called on more of his players to show leadership qualities on the pitch and not simply rely on captain Scott Brown to provide the drive and inspiration which has often been absent from their performances this season. Johansen is ready to accept that challenge.
“Everybody in the team should be ready for that,” he said. “We need 11 leaders on the pitch every time and even the whole squad should aim to be that way.”
Celtic must face Dinamo Zagreb without Swedish striker John Guidetti who scored both of their goals in Paisley on Saturday. The on-loan Manchester City man is ineligible for Europa League group stage football as his signing was not completed in time for Uefa registration.
Celtic were without playmaker Kris Commons, who has a pulled muscle in his backside, and young Belgian defender Jason Denayer, who has an ankle knock, on Saturday. Both men will be assessed today as manager Deila hopes to have available for the match against the Croatian champions.