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Dublin: 13°C Sunday 16 May 2021

3 key battles in tonight's Celtic-Juventus Champions League clash

Will Victor Wanyama keep Andrea Pirlo quiet? Can Gary Hooper overcome the masterful defensive talents of Andrea Barzagli?

Celtic's Victor Wanyama is likely to have a significant influence on tonight's game.
Celtic's Victor Wanyama is likely to have a significant influence on tonight's game.

Gary Hooper v Andrea Barzagli

Gary Hooper has constantly exceeded expectations since beginning his senior football career at Grays Athletic, having been let go by Tottenham at the age of 14.

His move to Celtic, following an impressive goalscoring record at Scunthorpe, lead to further success.

He has netted regularly in the Scottish league, demonstrating a natural flair for goalscoring, while not looking out of place during the club’s European exploits either. Moreover, he has consistently been linked with an England call-up, though untimely injuries have prevented it from happening as of yet.

With Samaras’ fitness a doubt for tonight, Celtic will surely be relying on Hooper even more than usual as their main goal threat, and he must overcome the odds and get the better of Juventus’ seasoned centre-back Andrea Barzagli.

The Italian defender came relatively late to top-level football, only joining the Turin club in 2011, following spells at a number of lesser teams, including Wolfsburg, Palermo and Chievo.

Nevertheless, he has since become a stalwart of their back four, and was part of a Juventus team that boasted the best defensive record in Europe last season, while being voted the 2012 Serie A Defender of the Year to boot, as they lifted the scudetto largely as a result of this solid backbone.

Hence, Hooper will surely need to take what few opportunities are likely to come his way if he wants to get the better of his esteemed opponent this evening.

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Kelvin Wilson v Mirko Vucinic

With one of Celtic’s regular centre-backs, Efe Ambrose, reportedly unlikely to play on account of his exhaustion from participating in Nigeria’s African Cup of Nations victory, a greater burden of responsibility is set to fall on the shoulders of his partner at the back, Kelvin Wilson.

Wilson is one of a number of players that the Celtic scouting system have done remarkably well to pull from relative obscurity (lower league football with Nottingham Forest).

He struggled during the early stages of his career in Scotland, but has regained the faith of the club’s supporters with some strong performances this season.

Having restricted players as talented as Lionel Messi among others already, he now faces a new considerable challenge in the form of Serbian international Mirko Vucinic.

Despite being taken off prematurely against Fiorentina at the weekend owing to fitness concerns, Vucinic is expected to start tonight. Moreover, he is regarded as an intelligent footballer, who is often capable of unleashing an extremely powerful and invariably accurate shot from distance.

Therefore, Wilson and the rest of the Celtic defence simply cannot afford to give him any space around their area, or they will likely be punished, owing to the attacker’s incredibly accomplished technical prowess.

However, recent evidence in their European fixtures suggests the Scottish side are more than capable of closing out space effectively, so conversely, it could turn out to be a frustrating evening for Vucinic and his colleagues.

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Victor Wanyama v Andrea Pirlo

Much of Celtic’s success tonight will depend on how well they are able to contain Juventus’ midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo.

The player lit up Euro 2012, pulling the strings in an Italy side that ultimately was hugely successful, reaching the final of the competition before coming undone against a classy Spanish team.

The ex-AC Milan player has been in similarly impressive club form this season, despite now being 33 years of age.

And the younger and more defensive-minded Arturo Vidal complements his skillful colleague in the middle of the park, which means Victor Wanyama and the rest of the Celtic midfield will have their work cut out for them this evening.

Wanyama though, more than any other Celtic player, is accustomed to overcoming preconceived expectations. He kept the likes of Xavi and Anders Iniesta relatively subdued during Celtic’s famous victory over Barcelona earlier in the season, while also opening the scoring in that match. And incredibly, he also made his debut for Kenya at the tender age of 15.

Since his arrival at Parkhead, he has swiftly become a fans’ favourite owing to his power, athleticism and rigorous work ethic. He’s even been compared with Patrick Vieira and has consequently been linked with sides of the calibre of Manchester United and Arsenal.

So if anyone’s equipped to stop the majestic Pirlo and co from developing rhythm to their play, it’s the imperious Wanyama.

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Paul Fennessy

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