Celtic have so far surpassed all expectations in this year's Champions League and will have to do something really special in order to overcome Juventus. The Italian champions have been touted as strong favourites for the tie and, even though it pains me to say it, rightly so. Neil Lennon's men will no doubt go into the fixtures thinking that they have a small chance of upsetting the odds, they did overcome Barcelona after all. This will depend on the way Celtic approach the fixture.
Neil Lennon is entering unknown territory with his relatively inexperienced side and although they have started to gather a reputation as "bottlers" in the big games with a number of losses in semi-finals and finals under the former captain, I feel that Europe is a completely different world altogether. Celtic have reached the Last 16 of the competition on one previous occasion and this did not phase the Glasgow team in the slightest, back in 2007 they bowed out to an extra-time goal against AC Milan and Kaka, who would then go on to lift the coveted trophy.
Now, six years later under the guidance of Lennon, the Glasgow side will again face Italian opposition. Fans of Celtic are highly optimistic ahead of the tie after the side picked up points on the road in the group stage for the first time, and they have yet to lose at Parkhead in the competition so far. The strategy that Lennon's men take will be imperative to any chance of qualification and after a transfer window where no key players made their way to the exit doors, it bodes well for the men in green and white.
In Fraser Forster, Celtic have one of the most respected goalkeepers in this year's competition. He has put in stellar performances against some of the world's best players and came out relatively unscathed. He has been struggling recently with a neck injury, but he looks to be coming back to the fold and having "The Great Wall" fit will be a must if Celtic are to put up a fight against Juve.
Now, defenders have been a weak point in recent seasons for Celtic but with the emergence of Adam Matthews and Mikel Lustig, Celtic will feel they are more than a match for anything Juventus have to throw at them. The problems come more in the centre with Kelvin Wilson, Efe Ambrose and defender come midfielder, Charlie Mulgrew the most likely options for a starting place at the heart of the defence. Wilson has been pretty shaky in recent fixtures without Ambrose at his side as he is currently on international duty with Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations. An unexpected defeat in the semi-finals of the League Cup saw an out of sorts Mulgrew taking a lot of the stick with a well below average showing and with Wilson barely scrapping pass marks this will be the area of the park that the Celtic supporters will most apprehensive about ahead of the knockout phase.
In terms of midfield, Celtic have a number of strong players who have performed brilliantly in Europe so far this season. Leading from the front is club captain Scott Brown who was hampered by a hip injury throughout the group stage yet still turned out a few great if gritty performances and his inclusion and a performance will be crucial for the home side in the first leg. Another Welshman, Joe Ledley, is the silent assassin. He plays a crucial role in the midfield setup but goes about his job in a quiet and unassuming way and to underestimate him would be almost suicidal for Juventus as he is stellar in both defence and attack. James Forrest, Kris Commons, Beram Kayal and Victor Wanyama are the others who will most likely feature in some way. James Forrest is coming back from an injury and it seems like perfect timing for the hoops. Both Commons and Kayal have been vital for Celtic in the past couple of years and will be on Tuesday for the first leg.
Victor Wanyama is, in my opinion, one of the best players to pull on a Celtic jersey. The Kenyan has the power, presence and ability of a seasoned professional. At just 21 years old, he has a long career ahead of him and I don't think that will be at Celtic much longer. He has the opportunity for the first time to show his worth in the knockout stage of the elite footballing competition in the world and I think he will show exactly why he is rated as highly as he is!
Celtic's strike-force of Gary Hooper, Anthony Stokes, Georgios Samaras, Lassad Nouioui and Tony Watt have shown thus far why they deserve a starting place against Juventus and it will be interesting to see how Lennon goes up top. I personally think the Northern Irishman will start with Samaras and Hooper just in front of him. It has been a well-worked partnership so far this season and if they can get the balance right again, who's to say they can't pull off another shock.
If Celtic are to have any chance of qualification they will have to get a result at home and keep things tight at the back. I am eternally optimistic that we can do something special and show the rest of Europe that we are not to be messed with. Either that or we'll be on the end of a resounding loss.