Celtic are the ‘luckiest team in the world’ to still be involved in the Champions League – and must seize their opportunity against Maribor, says Andy Walker.
The Scottish Premiership champions were hammered 6-1 on aggregate by Legia Warsaw in their third qualifying round tie but, due to the Polish outfit fielding an ineligible player in the final minutes of the second leg, were sensationally reinstated.
They now face Maribor on Wednesday night – live on Sky Sports 5 – in the first leg of their play-off for a Champions League group stage spot and, after thrashing Dundee United 6-1 on Saturday, former Celtic forward Walker is optimistic the Scottish giants can gain a positive result.
“Celtic are the luckiest team in the world, still to be involved in the Champions League,” he told Sky Sports News HQ’s The Morning View.
“It’s absolutely the right decision – you cannot have suspended and ineligible players taking part in football at any level – but it was no wonder everyone was critical of Celtic over the two legs.
“When you see the first leg, they lost four goals, Legia missed two penalties and it could have been seven or eight. We thought it would be all guns blazing in the second leg but at Murrayfield Celtic hardly laid a glove on Legia. They went out over the two legs and it was a pitiful performance.
“We’re all hoping tonight they can get it together and after seeing them at the weekend against Dundee United, certainly the level of performance was much-improved.
“The performance at the weekend gave the Celtic supporters a lift. They scored six against Dundee United, a team I think are better than they were last season.”
Walker has some sympathy for new Celtic boss Ronny Deila, as he has received little financial backing in the transfer window from the club’s board.
However, he says failure to reach the group stages of the Champions League will heap pressure on the Norwegian – although he could win over the supporters with a dominant domestic league and cup campaign.
“To be fair to Deila, I don’t think he’s been given any help by the board,” said Walker. “There is no appetite to spend serious money to give him the best possible chance.
“When you look at the way they performed last season in the Champions League, they lost heavily to Barcelona – a lot of good clubs could do that, so there’s no real criticism there – but the likes of AC Milan and Ajax, who they could have competed with, they lost out to as well.
“So you already knew the squad and first XI was on the wane. They needed a lift and so far it’s just loan signings Deila has been allowed to bring in.
“There is no escape from criticism at Celtic if you don’t make it into the Champions League but I think you’d have to reserve your judgement on Ronny Deila and the type of manager he is; give him a number of months to get into the league campaign and see how his team play there.
“They will win the title, it’s pretty much a given. But if they can get a bit of success in the League Cup and Scottish Cup, Ronny Deila will have made his mark.”
Watch Maribor v Celtic from 7pm, Wednesday, Sky Sports 5 HD