Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths has admitted that Wednesday night’s Champions League qualifier against Astana will ‘make or break’ their season.
Despite being troubled with a calf injury in recent weeks, Griffiths insists he is ‘fully fit’ and looking forward to Wednesday’s game.
With last season’s top scorer Moussa Dembele out with a hamstring injury until next month, the 26-year-old will lead Celtic’s attack.
He said: “I was fit and raring to go on Friday [for the Partick Thistle game]. This is such a massive game and the gaffer just took a bit of precaution.
“It makes or breaks our season, getting into the Champions League. Last season it gave us a great platform.
“We were in a difficult group [finishing last behind Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Mönchengladbach] but just making it after two disappointing years was massive for everybody involved.”
Griffiths scored in both legs against Astana last season, with a late Dembele penalty securing Celtic’s 3-2 win on aggregate.
This season, the former Hibernian striker has scored four goals in five games this term, but has only started three of Celtic’s seven games due to injury and suspension.
Griffiths added: “If me and Moussa are both injured, it’s difficult at times. But when we’re fit I wouldn’t have any other strikers in the league.
“I don’t think there is any added pressure. As we proved last year, even when Moussa was fit, I was still the main man to get the goals to fire us into the Champions League.
“With the quality we have in the dressing room, we are more than capable of getting through the two legs.”
The Scottish champions are short of options at the back with defensive duo Erik Sviatchenko and Dedryck Boyata out through injury. And despite midfielder Nir Bitton deputising at the back alongside Jozo Simunovic, question marks have been raised over the Israeli’s mentality at the back with youngster Kristoffer Ajer the preferred choice of some fans.
Despite their injury worries at the back, Celtic have not conceded a single goal in games against Linfield and Rosenborg during the qualifiers.
Griffiths continued: “Not conceding an away goal is vital. And we’ve got the players to stop them. It’s not going to be won tomorrow but we can give ourselves a great chance going to their place next week.
“I think they’ve kept most of their players from last year, so we know what we’re up against and it’s going to be difficult but, if we bring our A-game, we have a great chance to progress.”
Astana currently lead the Kazakh Premier League by seven points after 23 games played, having just lost twice.
In the previous round of the competition, the Kazakh champions beat Polish outfit Legia Warszawa 3-2 on aggregate while Celtic overcame Norwegian side Rosenborg 1-0 over the two legs.
Astana’s record away from home is dire, with just three goals scored in seven qualifiers and have never scored more than once – winning just one of their away games in the competition.
LDT Prediction: Celtic will find it tough with their defence at the bare bones, while in attack Celtic have to rely on Griffiths to lead the line. Scott Brown, as per usual, is an important part of the team and must lead by example and not needlessly pick up a silly booking – which he has a tendency to do.
I see Celtic keeping their clean sheet record intact, just, and grabbing two goals at home to take into the second leg tie. So I am going for a 2-0 win for Celtic.
Written by Andy Muirhead