Preview: Qarabag FK vs. Celtic

Sports Mole looks ahead to the second leg of Celtic's Champions League third-round qualifier away to Azerbaijani champions Qarabag FK.

Celtic travel to the Azerbaijani capital on Wednesday with the aim of reaching the Champions League qualification playoff at the expense of Qarabag FK.

The Scottish champions head to Baku with a slender 1-0 advantage from the first leg in Glasgow last week.


Qarabag FK

Nadir Ciftci of Celtic and Bedavi Huseynov of FK Qarabag in action during the UEFA Champions League Third Qualifying Round 1st Leg match between Celtic and FK Qarabag at Celtic Park on July 29, 2015© Getty Images

The biggest talking point ahead of the game has been whether it will go ahead due to concerns over the state of the pitch at the Tofiq Bahramov Stadium.

Reports have suggested that the heat in Baku has severely damaged the surface, but UEFA recently announced that the fixture is "scheduled to go ahead as planned".

Qarabag welcome Celtic to the Azerbaijani capital having given themselves a good chance of turning the tie around following a narrow first-leg defeat at Celtic Park last week.

Gurban Gurbanov's team were beaten 1-0 in Glasgow as Dedryck Boyata's late goal gave Celtic the edge ahead of the return leg.

Qarabag have never reached the group stage of the Champions League, though their only previous qualification campaign came last season when they were knocked out at this stage by Salzburg.

A poor pitch could well play into Qarabag's hands if they want to shock the Scots and book their place in the qualifying playoff. While Celtic remain favourites to go through, the tie remains far from over.

Recent form: DWL
Recent form (all competitions): WLDDWL


Celtic

Celtic manager Ronny Delia looks on during the Scottish Premiership League Match between Celtic and Dundee United, at Celtic Park on August 16, 2014© Getty Images

Celtic got the defence of their Scottish Premiership title off to a winning start at the weekend thanks to a 2-0 victory at home to Ross County.

Leigh Griffiths and Stefan Johansen got the goals at Celtic Park as the Hoops made it eight wins out of nine games in all competitions since the start of July.

However, manager Ronny Deila admitted after the match that his side put in a 'mixed performance' and struggled to show a clinical edge in front of goal.

Celtic's chances of making it through to the Champions League qualifying playoff are not yet certain. They hold the slimmest of advantages following a nervy triumph at home last week, and Deila will be well aware that his players could be severely tested in Baku.

Should they overcome Qarabag and seal a place in the playoffs, the Bhoys will take a step closer to booking a spot in the group stage of the competition for the first time since the 2013-14 campaign.

Celtic will be expected to finish the job in Baku and progress, but the state of the pitch and the rowdiness of the local fans could well play a major part in the outcome of the game. Cool heads will be needed.

Recent form: WWW
Recent form (all competitions): WWWWWW


Team News

Leigh Griffiths in celebrates scoring Celtics 4th goal during the Scottish Premiership Match between Celtic and Inverness Caley Thistle at Celtic Park on May 24, 2015© Getty Images

Celtic forward Leigh Griffiths was forced off during Saturday's win over Ross County with a hamstring strain, but Ronny Deila later confirmed that he expects the player to be fit to face Qarabag.

Summer signing Nadir Ciftci remains available despite starting his domestic ban at the weekend.

The visitors are understood to have no fresh injury concerns heading into the game.

Qarabag FK possible starting lineup:
Sehic; Qurbanov, Huseynov, Qarayev, Sadiqov, Agolli; El Jadeyaoui, Richard, Dani Quintana, Tagiyev; Reynaldo

Celtic possible starting lineup:
Gordon; Lustig, Boyata, Van Dijk, Izaguirre; Brown, Bitton; Mackay-Steven, Johansen, Griffiths; Ciftci


Head To Head

This will be just the second time that the sides have met following last week's first leg at Celtic Park.


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We say: Qarabag FK 1-2 Celtic

Celtic should have enough quality to see off Qarabag and reach the next round of Champions League qualifying. With this being Celtic, they are likely to make it difficult for themselves, but it would be a big shock if Qarabag manage to turn things around and advance. The visitors are probably going to have to grit their teeth, dig their heels in and battle to get a result, but they have enough steel, mettle and experience to do just that.


Who will go through to the Champions League qualification playoff?

Qarabag FK
Celtic
Qarabag FK
34.6%
Celtic
65.4%
Nadir Ciftci of Celtic and Bedavi Huseynov of FK Qarabag in action during the UEFA Champions League Third Qualifying Round 1st Leg match between Celtic and FK Qarabag at Celtic Park on July 29, 2015
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1Celtic1310303062433
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