No scope to languish on landing in Ron's flight to unknown

IT WILL be with a mixture of eager anticipation and nervous apprehension that Ronny Deila climbs aboard Celtic's charter flight to Iceland today.

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Derk Boerrigter has featured in pre-season but has shown little to suggest he could star in a wide role in Ronny Deila's 4-3-3 system
Derk Boerrigter has featured in pre-season but has shown little to suggest he could star in a wide role in Ronny Deila's 4-3-3 system

Not that such a short flight itself has any special significance for the Norwegian.

It is more the fact he is flying into the relative unknown that will have his juices flowing and his cerebral matter working overtime.

This former schoolteacher and now student of the game has done his homework on Champions League second round qualifying opponents, KR Reykjavik.

He will know as much as he possibly can about the Icelandic champions.

Perhaps he will even have tucked away in his luggage an advantage in the fact that, coming from a Nordic background himself, he will be able to understand the mindset of the KR players and management going into what, for them, is a massive tie.

However, what Deila will not know, despite his best efforts since taking over as Celtic manager more than month ago, is how his own players will approach this game, and how they will perform in the alien environment of the 2700- capacity Vollur Stadium.

Sure, he has worked with and lived with this group for the past few weeks.

He has worked them hard on the training fields at Lennoxtown and in Austria.

Deila has spoken to them in the meeting rooms, delivered his demands, relayed his philosophy, laid down his rules.

He has done it collectively and individually so that not one player is left in any doubt what is expected of them.

The new manager has also watched them try to put this into practice in four warm-up games, two of which were drawn and the other two won.

But when the whistle blows tomorrow night, all the theorising ends and the action begins for real.

Only then will Deila and assistant John Collins see what impact they have made on the group of champions they inherited from Neil Lennon.

All of this will be played out against a backdrop made perilous by the fact that any slip will be pounced upon - and not just by the Reykjavik players who are already in the midst of their domestic season.

Also looking to jump on any shortcomings will be the Celtic fans and the media, still waiting to be convinced the man plucked from relative obscurity of Stromsgodset is up to the job of leading the Hoops to a fourth straight title, and the Group Stage of the Champions League.

Victory would be the least many would demand from him, though, given the quality of opposition which will await Celtic in the play-off round for entry to the Group Stage - it could include Sparta Prague, Dinamo Zagreb and Maccabi Tel-Aviv - it is far from a rite of passage.

The potential pitfalls of the qualification rounds were evident for Lennon's Bhoys last summer when Shakhter Karagandy - based on the rankings, by far the weakest of the unseeded sides in the play-offs - caused them so much angst before Celtic dramatically made it through in a passion-filled night at Parkhead. This time around, there are even more obstacles to overcome.

Among those are the fact Deila is facing his first competitive game in charge, and that the first two home games in the qualification process will be played at Murrayfield where it has yet to be established how influential the support will be and how, indeed, the players will perform.

So Deila faces a baptism of fire, and the heat will be on when he reaches Reykjavik later today. Even in these fledgling weeks of his appointment as Celtic boss, he faces some very big decisions.

Would he really be willing to risk throwing Efe Ambrose straight back into action, considering the defender only met up with the squad again at the weekend after playing at the World Cup with Nigeria?

Memories of his horror show against Juventus, when Lennon took such a risk playing him just 36 hours after his return from the African Cup of Nations, scream out 'No'.

Deila wants to play 4-3-3, with a passing game based on possession and a high tempo. But is a group of players who have become set in their ways after four years under Lennon ready to make this change?

Moreover, is the personnel in place to allow them to safely play this system, especially with captain Scott Brown now ruled out through injury?

The style is so dependent on raiding wide players. But are those components currently available with James Forrest back on the injured list and Georgios Samaras having left the club?

Would Deila take the gamble - and, on all known evidence, it would be a helluva gamble - of relying on Derk Boerrigter on one side? If so, who would occupy the other wide position?

Leigh Griffiths was given a run out on the flank against LASK Linz, and, while he linked well with full-back Adam Matthews, it did appear to dilute his real quality, which is sna ping up chances in the box.

Dylan McGeouch is another who was given the chance to impress wide right during the opening games in Austria, but, noticeably, was much better when introduced in Linz as the playmaker just behind the main striker.

To the credit of the young man just back from half a season on loan at Coventry, McGeouch does at least show the willingness to give it a go, wherever Deila believes he can be of use to the side.

McGeouch said: "I'm trying to take my opportunity as I get it. The manager has made a lot of changes and is bringing in his own style.

"The players are trying to adapt to that. There is a lot of hard work off the ball and with the ball, so it is about getting match fitness."

McGeouch is the perfect example of a player treating the changing of the management guard as a fresh start.

But for Deila, this truly is the beginning of his time as Celtic manager, and you only get one chance to make a good first impression.

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