Malmo turn up volume in Celtic grudge match
If tonight's meeting of Malmo and Celtic came equipped with a volume control, it would be turned all the way up to 11.
After Celtic's 3-2 victory in the first leg, the Malmo goalkeeper, Johan Wiland, branded the Hoops players "pigs" and "children" and accused Leigh Griffiths of tugging jerseys incessantly.
Over the weekend, Rasmus Bengtsson, the Malmo centre-back, declared that it would be a risk for Celtic to field Virgil van Dijk, on the grounds that the Dutch defender would not be fully focused on his performance because of Southampton's interest in him. And Age Hareide, the voluble Malmo coach, cast aspersions on Celtic's ability to last a full 90 minutes.
Yesterday, Hareide was at it again, in a tirade during which he accused the Scottish press of not understanding the Swedish use of "pig", which he defined as "dirty". He also treated his listeners to an analysis of the comparative profanity of the F-word in Swedish and English.
Ronny Deila, meanwhile, cut to the chase in his estimate of the task to be accomplished if Celtic are to claim a place in the group stage.
"We are going to win this game. That's the only thing I'm thinking of," the Hoops manager said. "We can talk about the positive things. We have a very, very good chance. We are good enough - it's just about going out there and doing it.
"You can write this negatively and speak only about the pressure but we are leading 3-2. We showed we can cope and we have skills in our team to win this game. That's what we have to focus on. Yes, of course, I think we're a better team than Malmo - if I didn't think like this we wouldn't have a chance of making the Champions League."
Yet the fact remains that Celtic's prospects appeared far healthier after only 11 minutes of the first leg, when they were 2-0 up against a Malmo side who looked shell-shocked and on the verge of collapse, than they did when pegged back to 3-2 by a double from Jo Inge Berget, who feasted upon two moments of defensive carelessness.
For one thing, Celtic will almost certainly be depleted by the absence of Mikael Lustig at right-back. The Swede travelled but the odds are against his overcoming the hamstring injury. In contrast, Malmo will be reinforced by their captain and striker, Markus Rosenberg, who missed the first game because of suspension, while Enoch Adu is also available in midfield after his ban.
If Lustig fails to make it, Deila has big decisions to make. A clean sheet would put Celtic - and they have never conceded a goal in European ties on Swedish soil - through but the manager has no obvious remedy for the difficulty created if Lustig is confined to the stand.
Efe Ambrose can occupy the position but the Nigerian has proved to be an insurance risk and since there is also a whiff of hazard about Dedryck Boyata that arrangement does not inspire belief in Celtic's capacity to keep Malmo at bay.
Saidy Janko can also play in Lustig's place and did so at Tannadice on Saturday, but that was against a Dundee United team of low morale and, in any case, the Swiss has very little experience for life at this level. The simplest option might be to conscript Charlie Mulgrew for duty at right-back, where a left-sided player has an advantage when an opponent tries to cut inside him, and he would also bring set-piece expertise to the party.
Any split decision would put Celtic into Thursday's group stage ballot, but to achieve a score draw Deila's players will have to score, a feat last achieved in a European tie in the Swedbank Stadium by Rangers four years ago. Since then, Malmo have come through nine qualifiers unscathed at home.
Celtic are also not in the habit of winning on their travels. The 4-1 result against Stjarnan in Iceland last month was their first away victory in nine Euro outings. Hope is inspired by Griffiths, who is in marauding form and who scored twice against Malmo in Glasgow.
Griffiths insisted on turning out at Tannadice - where Deila stood down nine players - because of a fear of disrupting his rhythm. "I'm champing at the bit, I'm ready to go - that's why I didn't want to be rested on Saturday," the striker said. "I was eager to play and I repaid him again with a goal."
Of the Malmo goalkeeper's allegation that his jersey was repeatedly tugged by the Celtic forward, Griffiths said: "He was the one pushing and pulling. I spoke to the ref and asked him to keep an eye on it. The assistant behind the goal also made it clear that if he saw him pushing me again he'd give a penalty for it."
A penalty tonight would be celestial manna for Celtic on an evening which has all the makings of a nerve-wracking occasion. Still, Deila insisted on his belief that this was a tie well within Celtic's grasp. "Why should I sit here and be negative? I will say it again - we are 3-2 up," he said. "I know that if we play at our best that we have a very good chance to beat Malmo. If you meet Real Madrid and you are the best you can be, they have to have a bad day for us to win. But here we are going to play a team that we'll have chances to beat." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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