Celtic return to Champions League duty against Shakhtar Donetsk at Parkhead this evening, with Ange Postecoglou’s side looking to end their group stage campaign on a high having already seen their hopes of knockout stage progression extinguished.
With two games left to play, the Old Firm outfit still have slim hopes of competing in the Europa League in the New Year, should they finish third in the group, albeit with tonight’s clash simply a must-win with four points currently separating the Scottish champions and their upcoming opponents.
The Glasgow side head into the meeting with the Ukrainian side having scored 14 goals in just their last three games all competitions, with the aim now to transfer that ruthless nature into Europe, where the Hoops have been particularly profligate in front of goal – bagging only twice to date.
That crunch encounter could well provide a chance for summer signing Sead Haksabanovic to earn a recall to the starting XI, with the former Rubin Kazan man – who joined on a five-year deal in the recent window – having started on the bench during Saturday’s win against Hearts.
The Montenegro international had previously sparkled in the 6-1 thrashing of Hibernian a week earlier, notably laying on an assist in that triumph as well as producing an outrageous piece of skill at one stage, before being withdrawn at the break as a precaution.
The Sweden-born menace has made something of a slow start to life in Paradise with just five starts in all competitions to date, although Postecoglou has only recently talked up the benefits of being able to ease the playmaker into action, while excitingly teasing that the “best is yet to come” from the new addition.
Unleashing the £4.95m-rated ace later today could well be an ideal move for the former Yokohama boss, with Haksabanovic having previously proven a real handful for Shakhtar when the two clubs last met back in September in Warsaw.
On what was the 5-foot-9 gem’s first start for the club, the fleet-footed forward produced a “very lively” display, in the words of journalist Josh Bunting, notably playing his part in the away side’s opener after teeing up Reo Hatate with a neat, threaded pass.
While the one-time West Ham United man was replaced at the interval after that eye-catching performance, that withdrawal had seemingly been a ‘surprise‘ – according to Football Scotland’s Euan Robertson – with the player having shown the industrious nature to his game by winning three of his four ground duels as well as winning three fouls for his side.
His introduction from the start could well prove the difference for the Bhoys this time around – having eventually been held to a draw during that meeting in Poland – with Haksabanovic likely in need of a regular run of games to truly showcase his undoubted quality.