Dodgy pitch could be the undoing of Celtic’s Barcelona-like foes

Overcoming a side that “dominated” them and play “like Barcelona” sounds like a big ask for Celtic as they approach their Champions League third qualifying round second leg.

While they hold a one-goal advantage as they travel to Qarabag, their captain Ansi Agolli is quietly (or not so) confident about his side’s chances.

However, it could be a case of home comforts having the opposite effect on The Horsemen.

The defender had the following to say when speaking to the Sun on Sunday this week:

“We showed our ability at Celtic Park. We controlled the game and were superior. We dictated play and missed good chances. We must be careful not to concede but with our passionate fans, I believe we can win at least 2-0 or 3-1, maybe more, to make sure we qualify.”

But while he has expressed confidence, there is not even a guarantee that the tie will go ahead.

Qarabag’s Tofiq Bahramov Stadium’s pitch has taken on the brunt of unseasonably hot weather in Baku, with over 30 per cent of the surface currently deemed unplayable according to local media.

If the game does go ahead, any surface with dry, rutty patches could hinder the Azerbaijanis’ chances of implementing their game plan.

Celtic boss Ronny Deila highlighted after the first leg how their opponents were simply a striker short of implementing the style of one of football’s giants.

“Qarabag play a bit like Barcelona in terms of keeping possession. They play a lot. But their penetration wasn’t quite there [in the first leg]. They have to attack us much more in the away game and we need to be ready for their movement,” he told the Daily Record.

While the visitor’s hierarchy is reportedly upset at the way the pitch has been presented, any opportunity to affect their opponents pass-heavy style will only boost their chances of protecting their lead.

The Bhoys are 4/11 to secure the win or draw that would guarantee their participation in the play-off round of the competition, and much could rely on the fitness of Leigh Griffiths.

Their star striker netted the opener before coming off injured with a calf injury against Ross County on Saturday, with his manager confirming that he should be fit.

If he takes to the field in the form that he has shown in recent months, the 5/1 that he breaks the deadlock could be too big.

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Ben Stones

Ladbrokes News’ equine expert, Ben likes nothing more than studying the form to pick out a winner or two for our readers. A Journalism and Media Studies graduate from the University of Winchester, Ben has previously written for a number of football and racing blogs and websites, as well as contributing to the sports pages of his home-town newspaper.