Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon believes that the absence of Rangers from the Scottish Premier League could work against Celtic in Tuesday nightÔÇÖs Champions League tie.
The World Cup winner argues that Celtic, who have not had a high-octane match to quicken their pulses since beating Spartak Moscow 2-1 to reach the round of 16 on Dec 5, may find it difficult to raise their game against the Serie A leaders after being accustomed to cruising through matches against the SPLÔÇÖs cannon fodder.
Without Rangers to push them, Neil LennonÔÇÖs side have been able to win without performing at their optimum level, although there have also been embarrassing domestic cup lapses against the likes of Arbroath and St Mirren.
Victor Wanyama v Andrea Pirlo
The Kenyan has attracted widespread attention (not to mention a host of scouts from Premier League clubs) due to his impressive displays in the group phase but the 21-year-old will have his work cut out against the playmaker supreme. Peerless Pirlo has no pace to speak of but, approaching 34, he still dictates the tempo of games with his intelligent, economic use of the ball. The World Cup winnerÔÇÖs game intelligence makes him more valuable, and dangerous, than younger, faster players.
Gary Hooper v Andrea Barzagli
Norwich City failed with four offers for CelticÔÇÖs leading scorer last month and, if he can find a fifth goal from his 10th Champions League tie tonight, that refusal to cash in will prove to have been sound business acumen by the Glasgow club. Hooper will also want to prove a point to Hodgson against Barzagli, the Italy defender who reads the game so quickly that even the languid Pirlo makes more tackles. A World Cup winner and Euro 2012 finalist, Barzagli is 31 and has never played better.
James Forrest v Stephan Lichtsteiner
Or, if you prefer, James Forrest v Forrest Gump. That is one of the nicknames bestowed on full-back Lichtsteiner, who is also known as the Swiss Express due to his pace and stamina, which allow him to rampage up and down the right flank for both club and country. Forrest is a particular favourite of LennonÔÇÖs and the manager was keen to have him available for this tie. He has had just one first-team game since returning from five weeks out with hamstring problems but Lennon is convinced that the wingerÔÇÖs speed and directness can make a difference.
Celtic’s record v Italian clubs in Europe
Celtic are unbeaten in their last eight home games against Italian opposition in European competition.
Celtic 0 AC Milan 1 (Prati)
March 12 1969: European Cup, quarter-final, second leg
Celtic 3 (Auld, Carpenetti og, Wallace) Fiorentina 0
March 4 1969: European Cup, quarter-final, first leg
Celtic 0 Inter Milan 0
April 19 1970: European Cup, semi-final, second leg
Celtic 1 (MacLeod) Juventus 0
Sept 16 1981: European Cup first round, first leg
Celtic 4 (Valgaeren, Sutton 2, Larsson) Juventus 3 (Del Piero, Trezeguet 2)
Oct 31, 2001, Champions League group stage
Celtic 0 AC Milan 0
Dec 7, 2004: Champions League group stage
Celtic 0 AC Milan 0
Feb 21, 2007: Champions League round of 16
Celtic 2 (McManus, McDonald) AC Milan 1 (Kaka)
Oct 3, 2007: Champions League group stage
Celtic 1 (Ki) Udinese 1 (Abdi)
September 29 2011: Europa League group stage
P9 W4 D4 L1 F11 A6