Neil Lennon’s side welcomes the current Serie A leaders to Glasgow on Tuesday night aiming to seal passage into the quarterfinals of Europe’s premier cup competition.
Buoyed by UEFA Champions League group stage wins against FC Barcelona and FC Spartak Moskva, Celtic FC coach Neil Lennon says his players harness “a real belief” going into their round of 16 first leg with Juventus in Glasgow; an occasion he described as “one of the biggest games of their careers”. The 41-year-old’s opposite number, Antonio Conte, promised to stand by his attacking principles and warned his Juventus team against complacency, saying: “We’re going to have to be very, very careful here.”
Neil Lennon, manager
We have real belief going into this game – anything can happen. Nothing will be decided after 90 minutes. There are two games; you prepare to play hard for 180 minutes.
[Juventus] have got excellent strikers in [Mirko] Vučinić, [Fabio] Quagliarella, [Sebastian] Giovinco and [Nicolas] Anelka. They have a very strong midfield. [Arturo] Vidal has been playing very, very well. [Claudio] Marchisio is a world-class player and of course they have [Andrea] Pirlo who’s still one of the finest midfielders in the world. So the team is blessed with fantastic footballers but they shouldn’t underestimate Celtic. We’ve been massive underdogs since the beginning of the season.
Juventus and Barcelona have different styles of play, different cultures. Juventus are very strong defensively, they’re very well organised. They’ve been very consistent in domestic football. They’ve been very impressive in their Champions League campaign. We’ve put a lot of effort into preparing against them.
We’re going up against a great team and a great coach. It’s very exciting for me to challenge myself against Juventus. In terms of motivation, I don’t think the players need anymore from me. It’s one of the biggest games of their careers. To be in the last 16 is great exposure for the club. We’re all very excited and I’m sure the team will rise to the occasion.
Saturday: Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC 1-3 Celtic (Ross 9; Commons 20, Gershon 48, Miku 82)
Forster; Gershon (Matthews 66), Fraser, Rogne, McGeouch; Commons (Chalmers 46), McCourt (Watt 78), Kayal, Rogić; Miku, Stokes.
• Celtic moved 18 points clear at the top of the Scottish table following a comeback win against second-placed Inveness. Kris Commons cancelled out Nick Ross’s early opener, with Rami Gershon heading them in front before Miku’s late strike sealed the result against the run of play.
With Emilio Izaguirre (knee) declared fit by Lennon, Giorgos Samaras (hamstring) is the only doubt. Lennon also has a dilemma as to whether to select Efe Ambrose less than 48 hours after the defender was part of the Nigeria side that won the Africa Cup of Nations. The manager says Ambrose is unlikely to start but could be on the bench.
Antonio Conte, coach
We’re going to have to be very, very careful here tomorrow night. I feel that a stadium of 60,000 people will be like a 12th man. Celtic are a very good team. To beat Barcelona here and to go so close at the Camp Nou is proof of that. If anyone’s been underestimating Celtic, it’s certainly not been us. We have respect for Celtic who, like ourselves, are back in the Champions League.
The main objective is to continue to develop as a team, to mature. The minimum aim every year has to be to qualify for the Champions League. The Champions League is a dream for us, we savour it not only in the group stage but in the knockout phase. Our next aim is to get to the quarter-finals. At the end of this tie, we’ll be where we deserve to be.
We’ll approach this match in our usual way. We’re here to play our own match, we’re not going to adapt to them. Celtic have a physical threat, they’re very good at set plays but it’s not their only threat. As for us, we may lose some matches but we lose them while attacking.
The heart and soul of the Celtic team, to me, is [Scott] Brown alongside [Victor] Wanyama, who’s very good technically and has an impressive physique. [Gary] Hooper is a player who could excel not just in Scotland but also in Italy. He’s a very fast player who attacks the spaces very well, and he’s a good finisher. Samaras is another player with an imposing physique but he’s very good with his feet too. I like the goalkeeper, [Fraser] Foster who, for such a young man, has a very bright future.
Friday: Juventus 2-0 ACF Fiorentina (Vučinić 20, Matri 41)
Buffon; Barzagli, Marrone, Peluso; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, De Ceglie (Cáceres 60), Matri (Pogba 76), Vučinić (Giovinco 61).
• Juventus are five points clear at the top of Serie A after securing their first back-to-back wins since December. Mirko Vučinić found the net with a right-footed effort, and Arturo Vidal scored the second with his sock after losing his boot.
Giovinco has shaken off a thigh problem but Juve have a dilemna over who to play on the left of a five-man midfield. The injured Giorgio Chiellini is suspended, Paolo De Ceglie is out with a thigh knock and Conte says that fielding Kwadwo Asamoah after over a month at the Africa Cup of Nations “would be crazy”. Federico Peluso, then, is likely to get the nod.
• Celtic have not lost in eight games against Serie A opponents at Celtic Park since their first visitors from Italy, AC Milan, prevailed 1-0 in a European Cup quarter-final on 12 March 1969, winning by the same aggregate score.
Matthews, Lustig, Wilson, Izaguirre
Brown, Wanyama, Mulgrew
Samaras, Hooper, Forrest