Gordon Strachan predicts a thriller in Glasgow as in-form Celtic FC renew ties with the "fantastic" FC Shakhtar Donetsk side who beat them on Matchday 1.
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"Listen and learn." That is Gordon Strachan's message to his players as Celtic FC prepare for a potentially decisive UEFA Champions League encounter with FC Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday.
Back in contention
After going down 2-0 to the Ukrainian club in their opening fixture, the Scottish title-holders have clawed their way back into Group D contention with home victories against holders AC Milan and SL Benfica either side of a late loss in Lisbon. But it is clear the manager remains troubled by the manner of that reverse on Matchday 1, when two defensive errors inside the first eight minutes prevented Celtic from making a positive start in the section.
"You listen and learn," said Strachan. "You hope not to lose an early goal, play common sense football and try not to give the other team an advantage right away. That's what we'll try to do and we'll let the game flow after that. I'm sure it will be an exciting game." Strachan confirmed he is hopeful goalkeeper Artur Boruc and midfielder Paul Hartley will be available after the pair missed Saturday's 3-0 stroll against Aberdeen FC with respective toe and virus complaints. However, he was less forthcoming on counterpart Mircea Lucescu's assertion that Celtic are "lucky" to be still vying for a place in the knockout rounds.
"You must be confusing me with someone who's bothered," was Strachan's withering response, while he in turn was unstinting in his praise of the team the Romanian has built. "Shakhtar are a fantastic side," he continued. "They're all good players and have a number of individuals who are capable of turning a game with one flash of brilliance along with a few others who are happy to do the hard work."
Though respectful of the threat posed by the opposition, Strachan is comforted by Celtic's enviable home record – just one defeat in 15 UEFA Champions League fixtures – and by the return of first-choice striker Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink after successive ankle and hamstring injuries. "We're positive because we're playing well," the manager said. "We're scoring goals and looking like a threat most of the time, so that's where the positivity comes from."
Shakhtar arrived in Glasgow without the suspended Fernandinho but midfielder Nery Castillo is back in his coach's thoughts after apologising to his team-mates for missing a penalty in Saturday's 1-1 home draw with FC Naftovyk-Ukrnafta Okhtyrka. Lucescu, whose charges still top Ukraine's Premier League by a point, identified Scott McDonald, Aiden McGeady and Scott Brown as the key players for the hosts and is looking to avenge a 1-0 defeat at Celtic Park three years ago.
'Strong at home'
"We played very well and were unlucky to lose that match," said Lucescu. "But I have other experiences of Glasgow when Galatasaray [AS] drew 0-0 with Rangers [FC in 2000] and I also remember playing with Romania when we drew 1-1 at Hampden Park in 1981. Celtic are very strong at home with the crowd behind them, yet we hope to have opportunities on the counterattack to get the result we want."