There was once a time when I used to look forward to these kind of nights for Celtic.
I was always excited when Celtic were playing in Europe’s premier competition.
Especially when we were playing at home and Celtic Park was a fortress, where big teams hated to play.
They knew they were in for a tough time.
These days, Celtic Park is like a tourist attraction, the big teams love away nights there, but more often than not, they dish out a hiding to us.
Celtic Park is a shadow of the Champions League fortress it was in the first decade and a bit of this century.
Trips away for the last decade, barring one miracle in Anderlecht in 2017, are like death by a thousand needles.
Every one of them a deja-vu that we just cannot seem to shake, with our most recent one being very reminiscent of that kind of torture.
As a result, Champions League nights like tonight are just a source of anxiety for me.
I’ve developed an uncanny knack of being able to predict exactly what will happen.
I wrote about this in my article following that 6-0 debacle in Madrid.
I don’t like having this knack, but it probably comes from years of experience of this kind of thing.
Believe me, I’d much rather be able to predict us winning these sort of ties, but in reality, that seems quite a distance away right now.
So, what does tonight’s Champions League tie hold in store for us?
First and foremost, it’s make or break.
We have to win if we are to have any hopes of European football beyond Christmas.
We saw in our last game against Lazio that they are probably the weakest team in our Champions League group.
I know that probably sounds ridiculous considering the sucker punch they landed on us in that 2-1 loss.
Ultimately, the result of that game came down to mentality, and strength of character.
Our strength of character cruelly deserted us after Luis Palma’s goal was disallowed for the barest of touches from Daizen Maeda, who was deemed to be in an offside position.
Our heads went down, we didn’t have the right menality after that harsh decision, and we let it get to us.
True to form, and I hate to admit it, I said to my mates at our CSC, “Just watch now, they’ll sucker punch us after that.”
I predicted what would happen.
What always seems to happen to us in the Champions League.
And it did, it happened because Lazio smelled blood.
They sensed the weakness in us after that disallowed goal, and they exploited it mercilessly.
We all saw it coming really, its not like I have a sixth sense or anything, it’s intuition and it comes from our experiences at this level over the last 12 to 13 years.
To have any hope of getting the win we need tonight, we need to have strength of character in spades.
We need to enter into this game with the mentality that we are going to take what we need from it.
And that’s just for starters.
There can be no stupid mistakes, no foolish errors, no panic attacks and above all else, nobody can be sent off!
Now that’s a tall order for this team.
But I don’t blame them for being inadequately resourced for nights like this.
I blame our board.
And I will blame them tomorrow morning if we get nothing from tonight’s game.
I will not blame our players and I will not blame Brendan Rodgers, because I know they will do their best.
Our board never does the best it can do when it comes to the footballing operation.
Simply because, for some reason, they don’t care about this competition.
Similar to the way they don’t care about the standard of Scottish refereeing.
I wonder if the Champions League hammerings we’ve received in the last decade or so are a source of amusement to them as well?
Since Scottish refereeing seems to be a source of great mirth and hilarity.
Yeah, it was absolutely hilarious once again in the 94th minute at Pittodrie last Sunday, wasn’t it?
Anyway, I digress, my apologies.
Back to tonight’s Champions League tie.
Can we get a the result we need?
Well, if we can draw from the memory of the performance we put in the last time we were at the Stadio Olimpico, then we might just have a chance.
This Lazio team is not as good as the team we defeated both home and away in 2019.
This is reflected in their performances in Serie A this season.
They have only recently moved up to mid table courtesy of three league wins in a row in October.
But their form has dipped once again, and they have failed to win a league game in their last three outings, culminating in a 2-1 defeat to Salernitana last Saturday.
Bear in mind Salernitana sit rooted to the foot of Serie A on 8 points.
Before that, they held their fierce rivals Roma to a 0-0 draw and lost to Bologna 1-0.
Not exactly the form of a team we should be fearing, is it?
Yet I’m still nervous about tonight.
And it’s not Lazio I’m really worried about.
I’m more worried about our penchant for shooting ourselves in the foot on nights like tonight.
I guess that’s just the mentality I’ve developed over the last decade or so through various Champions League experiences.
I suppose you could call it a comfort zone of sorts.
So, today, I’m stepping out of that comfort zone, and instead of predicting calamity, I’m going to try and predict a win.
I believe we will defeat Lazio 2-0.
There, I said it.
I hope I’m not talking about the same old hard luck stories tomorrow.
Players sent off, goals disallowed, sucker punches and on, and on.
I want tonight to be a turning point in our Champions League fortunes.
I don’t want to talk about how the board has failed this team either.
Nor do I want give them airtime, because I’d like to talk about a win for once.
Go out and do it tonight Celtic.
Let us talk about a win.