With the transfer window now shut and last week’s Champions League draw done, I’d like to take a moment and look at what we’ve got.
My perspective is not neutral to say the least, being and Ajax and Celtic supporter from The Netherlands, but then again, where will you read a neutral view on anything?
Let me start by saying I don’t see either Ajax or Celtic winning this season’s edition of the CL and this was even prior to the results of the draw.
When the group H names came up, my first reaction was it will be a battle between my two favourite teams for third sport which makes secures European Football after Christmas.
Now that all last-minute transfers have been completed and I had a couple of days to let it all sink in, I feel there are some very exciting games to be played.
There are very famous clubs in the group, all former winners of the Cup.
AC Milan made a big impression on me when they played PSV Eindhoven in the final qualifying round. They have Loads of experience and exciting players such as El Shaarawy and Balotelli who can score at any moment during the game. They’re used to playing the type of Football which gets results rather than pleasing the fans.
AC Milan’s back 4 will never let you down but one of the main directors of the team is Nigel de Jong. He plays in a defensive midfield role. He’s physically very strong and has the ability to make hard challenges on the moment it is most needed.
Their captain Montolivo likes to run a lot, box to box and that is a quality on itself. The real danger lies with El Sharaawi who in my opinion is Milan’s best player by far. His pace and skill is world class and he’s an easy goal scorer. I am sure AC Milan will drop a couple of points along the way but I reckon they should be able to take 7 points from their home games and 3 or 4 in away games which is enough to qualify for the knock-out phase.
Next is FC Barcelona and my question is; how strong are they really? David Villa left the club but he wasn’t playing regularly. Neymar has come in and I have no doubt about his qualities but he seems to be lacking physical strength to immediately make an impact in Europe.
Last season FC Barcelona showed signs of weakness when they were up against physically strong teams such as Celtic and FC Bayern Munich. They have had defensive problems since Puyol was injured and their goalkeeper is not world class but FC Barcelona’s philosophy is simply based on scoring more goals than the opponent so 5-4 is a good result from their perspective.
Next to their defensive weak spots, I think the midfield wizards like Iniesta, Xavi and probably also Messi will be rested more since the Spanish season is very demanding. Since the difference in quality is significant when these guys aren’t playing, I think this could be an advantage for Celtic since the last game of the group stages will be Barcelona away.
In the end I think Barcelona still have a world class team and should be able to take all 9 points from the homes games and will certainly not lose all away games which also makes them clear favourite’s to qualify.
Ajax Amsterdam has had a very restless couple of years. On boardroom level there has been a battle for power whereby in the end, Johan Cruyff and his followers won the war. Now, the mission and vision is clear and three consecutive league titles have helped Ajax to recover from a long period of no meaningful silverware.
Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld have left to Spurs and Atletico Madrid which is bad news from a quality perspective. Realistically, these players were educated by Ajax after joining the club at a young age. They played 3-5 years in the first team and have won prices which made them interesting and gave them a good value. This is the strategy of Ajax in a nutshell.
After years of spending money on players and sacking managers, there seems to be stability at the club. Former players such as Marc Overmars and Edwin van der Sar are now positioned to lead the club on a professional and technical level.
Ajax has a talented group of players, many of them still young and without a lot of European experience. There a quite a number of Danish players in the squad and one to keep an eye on is Viktor Fischer. Bojac Krkic joined Ajax from Barcelona and is settling in well on the right wing.
It will be very interesting to see the double encounter against Celtic. I think Ajax have more quality in the squad but lack the determination to “rise to the occasion” which is one of the strong points of Celtic.
Celtic holds a special place in the heart of many Football fans and clubs. The atmosphere at Celtic Park is warmly remembered by many big players all over Europe and I am sure Celtic will be very hard to beat in Glasgow. The away games are totally different if you look at statistics (which never lie).
The transfer window wasn’t too kind on the quality in the squad. Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper left the club and they were huge last season during the European games. Derk Boerrigter has joined from Ajax but he has a history of being injured so many times his nickname in Holland is the man of glass. Virgil van Dijk came from FC Groningen and he is generally considered a talented defender without European experience. A lot will be expected from Teemu Pukki although I don’t know whether it is fair to demand 20+ goals this season and some more in Europe.
Personally I would have liked Ola Toivonen (currently at PSV Eindhoven with 1 year left on his contract) at Celtic for some more power and experience up front. Finnbogasson was always going to be difficult since his contract still lasts 3 years.
For the simple fact the Scottish Premiership isn’t an attractive proposition to foreign players, Celtic have Champions League Football and unconditional support to offer. In the end, this has not proven to be enough to get bigger names at the club.
Looking at the two games against Shakter Karagandy there is a lot to talk about how easily Celtic conceded the goals and how difficult it was to find the net although scoring three times at home.
I think Celtic will gather 4 points from the home games. Expectations will be sky high to beat Barcelona and AC Milan again but realistically I don’t see this happening.
So in the end, I think it will be a battle for third spot between Ajax and Celtic. And at least one of my European away games will be in Glasgow!
Louis van den Oetelaar