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Celtic's Lennon has insight into the game second to none

By Steven Beacom

Neil Lennon was a guest on the Sky show Goals on Sunday recently. There must have been over 100 goals on the programme, and much as I enjoyed watching the action, it was even better hearing the Lurgan man talk about his career and all aspects of the modern day game.

When Lennon speaks, he's worth listening to.

There are many of today's managers or ex-players who come on television and you automatically switch off.

Then there are those like Lennon, who entice you to reach for the remote control to turn up the volume.

Of course, given that he is the Celtic manager, there will be plenty who can't stand him, but that won't stop them tuning in to what he has to say. Lennon's Old Firm counterpart Ally McCoist at Rangers is another who has that X Factor.

Jose Mourinho, Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane are among those in the same bracket.

In the Goals on Sunday interview, Lennon spoke about his pride in leading Celtic into the knockout stages of the Champions League last season, suggesting that it was his greatest achievement.

Hard to argue given that the Hoops finished second to Barcelona in a group which also included Benfica and Spartak Moscow. The Glasgow giants claimed a mightily impressive 10 points – three coming from their epic Parkhead victory over Lionel Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and the rest of Barca's superstar side.

Should Lennon manage to take Celtic into the last 16 this season, however, it will trump their remarkable effort of 12 months ago.

For starters, Barca again, AC Milan and Ajax was an even tougher draw.

To date, Celtic have totalled just three points from 12, leaving them bottom of the table with hopes hanging by a thread. On the upside Ajax, on four points, and Milan, on five, are finding it difficult too, unlike Barca who, with 10 points, are safely through already.

Finishing third would see Celtic enter the Europa League, but they should not give up on the Champions League just yet.

Tonight, Celtic host Milan before finishing with a trip to the Nou Camp next month.

Winning both games – a big ask – should be enough to see them finish runners-up to Barca and qualify for the last 16 of Europe's premier competition. Depending on other results, four points might be enough.

Forget the trip to Catalonia for now though, Lennon will only have his team focused on beating Milan. They should have done it in the San Siro, but missed a golden opportunity having dominated for long periods.

Celtic cannot fail this time. With a fired up crowd inspiring the players, and Lennon shrewd enough to deliver the correct tactics, the Bhoys have every chance.

Former Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli will obviously be one to watch for the visitors. He missed a penalty at the weekend in Milan's 1-1 draw with Genoa, so how he reacts to that is anyone's guess.

Perhaps a more dangerous opponent will be Brazilian ace Kaka, starting to hit form in his second spell with the Serie A team, after a nightmare at Real Madrid.

If Celtic are at their best they can win and keep their Champions League dream alive.

No matter the result though, it'll be intriguing to hear what Lennon has to say afterwards. It always is.

Belfast Telegraph


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