If a handbook were to exist on how to go about one’s business in the time between crucial two-legged encounters, then Celtic and Malmo must be reading completely different chapters.
While Malmo opted to engage in some unusual trash talking – boss Age Hareide poured scorn on Celtic’s fitness levels while ’keeper Johan Wiland called Hoops’ players “pigs” and accused striker Leigh Griffiths of behaving “like a child” – they followed it up with a shock 1-0 league loss to mid-table side Hacken that dented their title hopes. Celtic, meanwhile, took an all-together different approach.
For a start, boss Ronny Deila wanted no part of any verbal duels, making light of Wiland’s jibes by describing his players as lions, rather than pigs. His players repaid his composure and focus with a 3-1 away win over Dundee United that maintained their unbeaten start to the season.
Key for Deila was that the three league points were secured even after he rested nine of the players that played last Wednesday, meaning the crux of the side who’ll travel to Sweden have had just under a week’s rest.
The same can’t be said of Malmo. Hareide rested only five of the side who played Celtic, but was forced to call on a couple of those when things weren’t going to plan at Hacken.
But despite their contrasting tactics between encounters, Champions League qualification – and the riches that accompany it – will rest only on how the sides perform on the Swedbank Stadion pitch on Tuesday evening. And there is no getting away from Malmo’s strong home form.
The Swedes (13/8 to win) have lost only twice on home soil all year, a sequence that spans 17 domestic games. Only four times in that stretch have they failed to score, with their last four home games alone producing 10 goals.
Of course with a 3-2 lead, Celtic only require a draw to progress to the group stages. But Deila will know only too well from last year’s chastening experience against Maribor that aiming for stalemate rarely results in the desired outcome.
Instead, given that his side have also had little trouble finding the back of the net – with 23 goals in 10 competitive fixtures already this season – Deila will surely instruct his side to target increasing their two-leg lead.
The visitors are 7/4 to win, while Leigh Griffiths is the man in form for the Scottish champions, with his 17th minute opener against Dundee United at the weekend the fourth time this season that he has broken the deadlock. The 25-year-old therefore looks the player to back for the first goal, at 9/2.
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