It is not often that the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League throws up anything particularly interesting. However, with Linfield managing to get past the first qualifying round, the Northern Ireland champions have set themselves up for their first ever clash with Scottish giants Celtic. There have been all sorts of political stresses over this, so much so that the game was moved to Friday night to avoid key dates in the marching season in Belfast. So Celtic will go to Windsor Park without any support in tow (at least not officially) as they have their concerns over the safety of their fans.
Hopefully though all that political tension stays in the background and Windsor Park gets to see a big night of European football. The hosts are obviously heavy underdogs to get through this tie at the end of the day and are as big as 10/1 at Paddy Power To Qualify. Can the Northern Ireland side manage to hold out for something a little special on home soil in the role as the underdog, or will the extra quality and power that Celtic possess see them set up a big first leg advantage?
Linfield vs. Celtic
UEFA Champions League – Friday 14th July 2017 – 5:00 pm
Best Odd of: 20/1 at Ladbrokes
Best Odd of: 8/1 at Ladbrokes
Best Odd of: 1/10 at Ladbrokes
What a big occasion for the Blues as they take on the Scottish champions. The Irishmen came through the first qualifying round by grinding out a 1-0 aggregate win over San Marino outfit La Fiorita. To be fair to Linfield, they dominated both legs of the tie, but they were facing a side who just sat everyone behind the ball pretty much. The Windsor Park crowd will play their part in geeing up the Blues in this one and while their Champions League ambitions for the season are likely to come crumbling down in the tie, there is every chance that they could do themselves proud with a decent performance on Friday night in the first leg. Last season they fell in the qualifying round of the Europa League to Cork but have won two of their last four European ties.
The Scottish Champions have form. They completed the domestic treble last season without breaking a sweat and they will be hoping to make it through to the group stage of the Champions League this season. Their ambitions have to be high. The last time that Celtic suffered a defeat in a match (in any competition) was against Barcelona back towards the end of November last year. That’s a remarkable run of form from them and they of course, won the Scottish Premiership without suffering a single defeat. So they have the inevitable “invincibles” tag around their necks at the moment. They haven’t shown particularly much in pre-season aside from thumping Shamrock Rovers 9-0. It’s been a quiet look at the squad from Brendan Rodgers otherwise as they toured Austria where they posted a W1 D2 record, scoring just two goals.
There’s not much team news around with pretty much full squads available for both. Only Dedryck Boyata is out of the Celtic squad and Jonny Hayes, after his summer switch from Aberdeen could get his first game in for the Hoops. Remember former Manchester United keeper Roy Carroll? Yes, he’ll be starting between the sticks for the Blues.
Top Betting Tips
Here’s the thing about this one in the betting markets. Linfield look to be thoroughly underestimated here. They are at home, they are catching the Hoops in what really should be pre-season still and they will have the advantage of a massively intimidating home crowd. You really can’t ignore the value of a 2.50 Linfield Asian Handicap at Ladbrokes for a price of 20/21 which means that you’ll get a return as long as the home side don’t lose by three goals or more. Celtic should win, even after losing in the qualifying rounds last season away from home to Griabtrala side Red Imps, it just means that the Hoops should be all the more cautious this time around against a lower-ranked side. If they get in front they should see out the game and a Celtic 2-0 correct score at Sky Bet is a 5/1 poke.