CFR Cluj vs CelticUEFA Champions League, KO: 19:00 Aug 7, 2019, Stadionul Dr Constantin Radulescu
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE qualifying has been plain sailing for Celtic so far but they face a big step up in class when they head to Romania.
After negotiating a tricky first-round tie against Sarajevo without much fuss, the Hoops had the good fortune to be paired with Nomme Kalju of Estonia.
Those minnows were hopelessly out of their depth and the tie was over by half-time in the first leg as Neil Lennon's side romped into a 3-0 lead.
They added two more after the break then two more in Estonia to wrap up a 7-0 aggregate win and the goals kept coming when the Premiership campaign started last weekend.
This time Celtic smashed home seven goals in just 90 minutes against a hapless St Johnstone side, getting the defence of their league crown off to what Lennon admitted was the perfect start.
However, only the most optimistic of Hoops fans will be expecting the goal glut to continue against Cluj as Champions League qualifying gets down to the nitty gritty.
Celtic fell to AEK Athens at the same stage last season but there were mitigating factors, most notably in defence as Dedryck Boyata downed tools and other key players suffered injuries and suspensions.
That led to the much-maligned Jack Hendry playing alongside fellow youngster Kris Ajer in the first leg then partnering Jozo Simunovic in the return when the Norwegian was suspended.
Hendry hasn't featured since Lennon took over, in part due to injury, and won't be asked to step in for the clash in Romania. But there are similar problems at the back, with new signing Hatem Elhamed limping off last weekend and Simunovic being linked with a move to French side Lille.
New £7million signing Christopher Jullien only has one competitive game under his belt, the dead rubber in Estonia, and Lennon has left him on the bench, with Elhamed and Simunovic both starting.
I'm a bit surprise Jullien didn't start, given Lennon has flagged up Cluj as a physical team who take no prisoners. The Romanians are a far more dangerous side than either Kalju or Sarajevo and have reached the group stage of the Champions League three times.
But the last time they sat at the top table of European football was seven seasons ago and their recent record in Europe hasn't been that great, especially at home.
Swedish side Malmo knocked them out in the second round of Champions League qualifying last term while Cluj have also bowed out of the Europa League to Dudelange of Luxembourg and Dinamo Minsk of Belarus.
They lost at home on each of those occasions and also drew 0-0 with Serbian side Jagodina in Romania before beating them 1-0 away in the 2014 Europa League qualifiers.
Things have picked up this season, with Dan Petrescu's men beating Astana and Maccabi Tel Aviv at home to set up 3-2 aggregate wins in both games.
Despite that, Petrescu claims his side will need a “miracle” to see off Celtic and qualify, even insisting the Hoops can go as far as las year's semi-finalists Ajax some day. However, I suspect that's just mind games from the former Chelsea defender and he will actually fancy his side's chances of going through.
It was 1-0 against the Israelis for Cluj in Romania but Astana did manage to score in their 3-1 loss and that will give Celtic hope of getting a crucial away goal. Unfortunately, the bookies fancy their chances as well and the best price on Lennon's side scoring is 5/12 with Sportingbet. Instead try backing both teams to score, which is 11/10 with most firms.
There was just one goal in Cluj's last European game at home but the three before that all delivered four goals or more. For that reason, try a punt on over 2.5 goals which is 7/5 with Bet365.
Midfielder Ryan Christie has been on fire for the Hoops this season, netting six times in five games, including a hat-trick last time out against St Johnstone.
I tipped Christie to score in Sarajevo but it was one of the games he drew a blank in, although the 24-year-old did grab a goal in the Parkhead return. Despite his fine form, Christie is 7/2 with Ladbrokes for anytime scorer, which looks massively overpriced, especially as he takes Celtic's penalties this season.
Cluj's Argentinian midfielder Emmanuel Culio also netted from the spot as his side drew 2-2 with Maccabi in Israel to line up the clash with the Hoops. But he's an injury doubt so a better option for a home anytime scorer could be striker Mario Rondon at 7/2 with Paddy Power.
This UEFA Champions League match between CFR Cluj and Celtic will be played on Aug 7, 2019 and kick off at 19:00