Lennon vows to add zest into Celtic mix
A CHILLY night out in the east end of Glasgow in front of Europe's most raucous crowd is not what most people would imagine to be a relief from intense domestic pressure.
However, in the case of AC Milan, it could turn out to be just what il dottore ordered.
More accustomed to keeping elite company in the later stages of the Champions League than the indignity of their current status as the 13th-placed team in Serie A and without a win in five league matches, Massimiliano Allegri's players trained at their Milanello centre yesterday morning rather than observe the customary session at Celtic Park last night.
Perhaps they feared being trapped in the stadium as they were in the San Siro last Saturday when disenchanted fans demonstrated outside after the latest below-par performance, a 1-1 draw at home to Genoa.
"That's hopefully something I will avoid in the future," said Celtic manager Neil Lennon, ahead of tonight's Group H collision.
"I haven't felt a lot of pressure going into this game. In fact, I haven't felt a lot of pressure in any of the group games really. We competed well and still have an opportunity to qualify.
"I would like us to play really strongly at home and give the supporters something to really shout about. Whether that's enough on the night remains to be seen.
"I will be looking more to the performance than the result. If we win the game and don't play well I will still be obviously delighted but I am looking for a really strong performance as well."
Certainly, the Celtic players who failed to deliver in their surprisingly tame defeat by Ajax in Amsterdam in their previous group stage outing were harsh in condemnation of themselves and they have had sufficient time to put themselves back on track, according to Charlie Mulgrew.
"Amsterdam was one of those nights for us -- but it's far away now because there have been so many games in between and we can take a lot of confidence from the way we've played in the Champions League before," said Mulgrew, who will captain the side in place of the suspended Scott Brown
"It's not about focusing too much on the Ajax game. It's about focusing on the positives on the night.
"The crowd will get behind us here as usual and we can push on and get the win but we don't look too much into what their fans are saying to them.
"They're probably looking forward to coming here. Who knows? We just need to be prepared."
For all of Milan's travails at home, they are well placed to proceed to the group stage. In fact, if they win and Barcelona prevail in Amsterdam, they will be through.
The possibilities are not so straightforward for Celtic. Even if they beat Milan, they need Barca to win.
In that case, assuming they take nothing from their final group-stage match in the Nou Camp, they would be in the Europa League, unless they win by three goals or better tonight -- in which case they would proceed to the knockout stage of the Champions League in the event of a split decision in Italy.
Lennon has declined to put much store in the calculations, other than to observe that "the group can flip".
Like the club's support, he craves the adrenaline rush of Champions League nights and there would be cold turkey for Christmas if tonight proves to be a farewell.
"We don't want this to be the last Champions League night at Celtic Park this season. Losing will kill it off, winning will maybe give us an opportunity of more Champions League football, or a realistic chance of the Europa League. It would be respectable to qualify from a group like this," he said.
"These games concentrate the senses. The players get a real feel for it and you can see their natural instincts come to the fore. There is a mood about them today and I am hoping that gives them a big lift tomorrow.
"I'm going to try and go with a bit of pace if I can. Derk Boerrigter is fit, so he will have a good chance of starting. I hope he will give us a different dimension going forward.
"I am toying with playing Georgios Samaras through the middle. I haven't decided yet. We will make our final conclusions on the team later. Anthony Stokes trained today, so he's back in the squad.
"I want us to play with a bit of zest. I don't think Milan pass the ball as well as Ajax or Barcelona, so we'll have more possession -- but it's what we do with it that matters."
Meanwhile, Xavi Hernandez has been passed fit to play for Barcelona against Ajax, but full-back Adriano has joined the Spanish champions' growing injury list. With Lionel Messi, Victor Valdes, Jordi Alba and Dani Alves also out, Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino has had to call in four youth team players to complete the 19-man squad.
Four-time European champions Ajax, who must win to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages, have an injury crisis in their front line with captain Siem de Jong and Iceland striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson ruled out by injuries picked up on international duty last week. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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