The 2018/19 season is nearly upon us.
Celtic are in Armenia going through their final preparations for the challenge of Alashkert this evening and the prospect of seeing the Hoops in competitive action is hugely exciting.
Kicking off at 5pm Celtic Park time, tonight will be the first opportunity to see the pre-season hard work pay off in a non-friendly environment, with fans expecting a positive result to take home to Glasgow.
UEFA Champions League qualifying is as tough this summer as it has ever been for the Scottish champions and getting off to a strong start is crucial.
What should fans expect and be looking for from the encounter?
Let’s take a look…
The same starting XI as Saturday
It may have been a friendly against Shamrock Rovers, but there’s no doubt that Celtic looked sharp at the weekend.
The 7-0 victory demonstrates that the Hoops are ready for tougher tests and despite Alashkert’s lowly status in European football, that’s certainly what they will give Celtic this evening.
Saturday’s entire starting eleven were substituted off throughout the encounter against Rovers, hinting that Rodgers will utilise the same formation and personnel, subject to injury. There were concerns that captain Scott Brown may miss the encounter in Armenia but he trained with the squad on Monday night.
Looking defensively solid and dangerous going forward, the tried and tested eleven are the team to get the result we need to bring back to Celtic Park.
Another cameo from Lewis Morgan
New arrival Lewis Morgan was one of the players who came on in the second half on Saturday, scoring his first Celtic goal, albeit in non-competitive action.
It was a belter too.
Driving from his own half, the former St Mirren star surged into the opposition box and finished coolly beyond Rovers goalkeeper Alan Mannus.
— Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) July 8, 2018
It’s clear that the 21-year-old has pace to burn for days and could be a massive option from the bench if things are tight in Armenia.
With the heat expected to be a roasting 30 degrees Celsius this evening, Rodgers might need to utilise substitutes smartly in the second half and Morgan is surely one of the outstanding candidates in attack.
He’s a player who has the ability to make a big first team impression this season and fans will be desperate to see him in action, especially after the exit of winger Patrick Roberts.
The crucial away goal
There can’t be any illusions that tonight’s tie is an easy one for Celtic. Alashkert have won the Armenian Premier League title for the last three seasons and can’t be treated as mugs, despite having not achieved anything of note in Europe to this point.
At the very least though, fans should expect a committed performance and something to bring back to Celtic Park next week.
While supporters will always hope for a comfortable victory, it’s an away goal, and a draw at least, that is vital. That will really open up the tie for Celtic coming back to Glasgow, where seeing off the Armenians will surely be the outcome.
The French Connection
Perhaps the most anticipated aspect of this evening’s encounter in Armenia is seeing the blossoming partnership of Odsonne Edouard and Moussa Dembele flourish further. The duo were in sparkling form at the weekend and both look incredibly fit and ready to go in the Hoops first team.
A frustrating aspect of last season was their lack of playing time together, but hopefully now both are fit, motivated and eager to impress then we will see Brendan Rodgers utilise them together more going forward.
While many people expect Moussa Dembele to leave this summer, there have been no suggestions a departure is imminent and investing in this partnership with time played could be critical to the way the Hoops’ season pans out.
In full effect, the French connection could be devastating.
What are you looking forward to most from tonight’s encounter? Have your say in the comments below…