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  1. It wasn't to be in Europe. We battled PSG close in Paris, but they grabbed a deserved goal midway through the second half and we couldn't find a way to the crucial away goal. We still had a chance at home - we'd certainly put in some impressive performances at the Otkritie before now - but the French giants scored early and that meant we needed three. We found one, Fedorenko twisting and turning to find space in the box, but the visitors caught us on the break and we had nothing left. A valiant effort, a superb campaign, but not to be on this occasion. We'll be back though. At home, we got our run-in off to the perfect start with a thumping win in Samara, before a somewhat weakened side saw off Khimki between the two Champions League games. An own goals after 75 seconds got us on our way, and we never looked back. However, away ta Rubin - a side that beat us at home earlier in the season - we struggled to get going, and the Kazan side held out for a goalless draw that threatened to damage our title bid. That left a tricky tie in Armavir to be negotiated before the grand finale at home to Zenit, and we controlled things from the outset. A first-half penalty and late strike from Kostenko were sufficient, and with CSKA falling to defeat in Rostov, our success was confirmed, and we were the first Spartak side to retain the title for more than a decade. That left the Zenit game as mere exhibition, and while the Petersburg side were not about to roll over, a rare goal from Xoshimov in the dying embers of the game was a fitting conclusion to the campaign. CSKA lost again on the final day, picking up just six points in their final five games to hand us an advantage we would not let go. Our own points tally is seven down on last year, and CSKA kept the race alive for longer, but in the end we had enough in the tank down the home straight to wind up with a nine-point margin. We'll be looking improve next year, but so will everyone else. Krasnodar and Zenit rounded out a more usual top four, with my old charges at Kuban coming comfortably in the middle of the pack. With three wins all season it's little surprise to see Baltika fall away, and Krylya join them after a poor season. We've got an excellent record against the Samara side, so it's a shame to see them go. On the whole, it feels like this year's squad has a great deal more depth to it, with several younger players working their way into the starting rotation more regularly - Kozhemyakin, Gusev and Cherepanov at the bottom of the list perhaps three of the most promising. On the whole we're a fairly young squad, which is just how I like it, and there's plenty of room for growth. Once again it was Vorobjov's goals and all-round brilliance that fired us to success, and with the attention of Manchester United and Spurs firmly on him, we could face a battle to keep our star striker. We don't need their money though, so I'm hoping we can convince him to stay. Elsewhere, it's difficult to see past last year's defensive stars Ivashin and Borovkov as the key men, although there's certainly a case to be made for Fedorenko and even Kolosov, whose late-season goals helped us seal the title. It's a strong squad, of that there's no doubt. And, as you might expect, I'd like it to be stronger still. I'm not envisaging a particularly busy transfer window - not unless one of our stars decides to try and force a move - as there's no need to splash out for the sake of it. There'll be young signings and a bit of trimming of the side, but otherwise we'll come back another year older, another year wiser, and another year more driven to get to the top of the European tree. Three in a row, no embarrassment in the cup, and a deep run in the Champions League - it sounds idealistic, but it's what you have to aim for when you're already at the top of your game. -- Saparow, after a scare at around the two-thirds mark of the season, had come through. CSKA were vanquished once more, and Spartak retained their title with relative ease in the end, such was their rivals' failure at the business end of the campaign. Success was becoming ingrained at the Otkritie, and our Turkmen was the catalyst. Yet Bahtiyar wanted more. The cup continued to elude him, and run to the last four in Europe - only defeated by eventual champions PSG - had whetted his appetite. The Champions League was no longer a welcome extra, it was now his driving force - he would stop at nothing to take his beloved Spartak to the very top of the continental pile.
  2. I mentioned last month that April gave us a fairly comfortable domestic schedule, and so it proved. Sibir were little competition as we eased to a 3-0 win, and a first-half hat-trick from Kolosov saw us to all three points in Krasnoyarsk the following weekend. We avenged our early season defeat to Terek with another 4-2 win when returning home, and almost made it three in a row against Baltika, the visitors only managing one this time as Kolosov continued his excellent league form. The only side to cause us any trouble in the league were Kuban, but a late Kulaev strike got us through in the end, delivering a perfect 15-point month when we most needed it. Then there was Europe, and a mammoth clash with Manchester City. I wondered whether they'd had too much for us when they scored early at the Otkritie, but we rallied well, Vorobjov levelling after the break before Kostenko snatched a win we barely deserved at the very death. Heading to England we knew City would come at us hard with the away goal under their belt, but Vorobjov's breakaway goal stunned them midway through the first half, and this time it was their time to strike late - their goals coming in stoppage time at the end of each half. Having been denied a famous win we could have been forgiven for having our heads down in extra time, but we were actually the better side, and a stunning free-kick from Fedorenko with five minutes to play left City needing two goals in next to no time. We didn't allow them even one, and PSG stand between us and the Champions League final. We needed to up our game if we were to hold onto our title, and we've managed to do just that with a perfect April. CSKA have been strong too, but a crucial loss in Krasnodar means we've jumped back into the lead, two points ahead going into the final stretch. We may well need close to perfection again if we're to pull off back-to-back championships, and looking at our schedule - should-be straightforward games against Krylya and Khimki mixed with trips to Armavir, Rubin, and a final day hosting of Zenit - if we come through, we'll certainly have earned it. Of course, all of that is complicated by the Champions League, where we have already gone further than any Russian side in decades. PSG are a huge side with truly world-class players, but if we can beat the likes of Juventus, Bayern and City, should we be scared? The reward for success is surely greater than any risk of failure...
  3. Let's start with Europe, because frankly that's where the positives are. At home to Bayern in the first game after the long winter break, we edged an even game against the Bavarians, a single goal from Kostenko at the end of a slick passing move giving us a slender advantage ahead of the away leg. We went to Germany expecting to come under severe pressure, and we were until the 36th minute, when Vorobjov found space in the area to fire us ahead on the night. That meant Bayern needed three and so needed to throw caution to the wind, and as they did so we picked them off time after time, Vorobjov netting again within a minute and the second half turning a great result into a hammering. Manchester City are up next in the last eight - we couldn't, could we? On the home front, I've been less impressed. Krasnodar are a good side but we didn't click in a 2-1 defeat, and while we beat Anzhi comfortably enough, our 3-1 win in Rostov wasn't settled until the last 10 minutes, our heavy hitters coming off the bench to grab the points late on. Then, after the euphoria of the Bayern game, we crossed Moscow to take on CSKA and choked in a major way, conceding first place and momentum to our rivals with just 10 games to go. We've made it hard for ourselves now, and if we wind up second it'll be nobody else's fault. As I've said, we sit second, trailing CSKA by a point as we approach the last third of the campaign. We've already dropped more points than we did in the whole of last season, and after being a long way back at one stage, Zenit are only five points behind us in third. Elsewhere, Baltika are back on the bottom, while Kuban are sitting nicely in midtable. Next month, we have a relatively comfortable schedule - Sibir, Terek and Baltika at home, Yenisey and Kuban away - but juggling all of that with two massive games in the Champions League will be a challenge in itself. We've got to hit form top form or we risk leaving it too late, and do all we can to put CSKA under pressure. It's going to be close.
  4. We're back in business after the winter pause, with slightly fewer friendlies under our belt this time round. With no transfer business in or out, the big news was a contract extension for yours truly - three more years giving me time to build a dynasty here. The owner sees me as central to his vision for the club, and is backing me accordingly, upgrading the already excellent training facilities for both the senior and youth sides over the coming year. It's an exciting time to be at Spartak, and I hope to make the same true for the fans. Elsewhere, Vorobjov was named Russian Player of the Year ahead of Real Madrid star Kozlov and CSKA dangerman Sapozhnikov, showing just how good he's been since joining us from Armavir. We paid a lot for him, but he's been worth every penny so far - and at just 23, he can be even better in the future. February also saw the latest class of youth graduates make their case for contracts, and while there is no immediate star of the future on show, I'm a big fan of centre-back Sekretov and especially winger Stepanov. We play a narrow formation of course, so he'll be retrained - probably to play behind the strikers - but he has the right attitude the get the work done on the training ground, and the raw ability is clearly there. We also have a Turkmen in the form of Gaur Kafanov, and there's a reasonable chance he could become a decent squad player one day. If I can help out my father's homeland with my work here, I'll certainly look to do so.
  5. We've hit the winter break after a full November and a busy first week or so in December, and we've been doing... OK. In the league, we saw off Khimki with relative ease, but were then thwarted over in St Petersburg - Zenit fought back well after Popov's early strike, and by half-time were ahead. Fedorenko pulled us level, but we couldn't find a third way through. A draw away at Zenit isn't the end of the world, but a home loss to Rubin had the alarm bells ringing. Yes, a handful of players were rested with Europe in mind - more on that later - but to fire blanks at a fairly middling side, not to mention actually losing at home, is hardly acceptable, and my men got the riot act as a consequence. They heeded the warning, bouncing back with home wins over Armavir and Ufa, but still five dropped points in six weeks is less than ideal. To Europe then, and first up was the home leg against Dinamo, who simply are not ready for this level of football. All credit to them for getting here, but we didn't even play particularly well in a 5-1 win. That put us on nine points, but with Arsenal and Juventus in the mix, we'd be hard-pressed to get the point we needed. To that end, I rested a few for the Rubin - a decision that saw us lose poorly - and in return I was given one of the finest performances of my tenure, my men putting the Italians on the back foot from the off, and being unlucky to concede twice. It looked like we'd come away with a good point, but in the 93rd minute full-back Nazarov arrowed one into the bottom corner from 18 yards, and we'd pulled off a famous win. That left us with a free hit against the Gunners, knowing that a win would see us claim top spot, which would have been a phenomenal achievement given our opponents. Sadly, Arsenal were just better than us on the day and grabbed goals either side of the break to overturn Vorobjov's strike, and a late third finished us off. We'll play Bayern Munich home and away after the resumption, and if we can beat Juventus, then I give us a chance. We stay on top of the pile in the league, but only just - CSKA have pulled a couple of points back on us, and we lead by a solitary point. It's looking like the title fight will between the two of us once again, with Zenit heading a chasing pack already eight points adrift, so we at least know what we're up against. Elsewhere, Baltika have defied my predictions of doom to put themselves within four goals of escaping the relegation zone, and both Anzhi and Rostov need to be careful to avoid getting sucked in. We shouldn't be doing anyone any favours down there. -- Spartak's domestic form had not hit the imperious heights of the previous season, but Saparow remained confident of retaining their title. CSKA looked like being the only competition once again, and after the 6-1 win early in the campaign, the Turkmen felt he had their number. In the Champions League, things were getting exciting. Wins home and away over Juventus meant a last 16 tie with Bayern seemed winnable, and it would take a heart of stone not to dream beyond that. If he could take the Russians to European glory, surely Bahtiyar would be one of the all-time greats?
  6. In Europe, October has been a mixed bag. Over at the Emirates, hosts Arsenal were just too good for us on the night - scoring twice late in the first half and barely giving us a foothold in the game. On the other hand, our trip to Minsk was as simple as they come, a Vorobjov hat-trick seeing us cruise to our second win from three to position us well at the midway point. We'll still probably need one more positive result from Arsenal or Juventus though, so we're far from through. At home, we improved on a poor September, but even then we started with a stutter, my old Kuban side defending very well at the Otkritie - and getting lucky when Kolosov had one chalked one for a dubious offside - to take a point away with them. Newly-promoted Baltika are still winless and not cut out for this level, and our day in Kaliningrad was a breeze from the moment they put through their own net early on. Krylya were little better back on home soil, and it was good to see young Kozhemyakin bagging a brace on a rare start. Then there was the cup. Away to second-tier opposition, I perhaps over-rotated the side with other competitions in mind, but that was little excuse for an abject display. The Petersburgers took us to extra time, scored first to leave us scrambling, and then held their nerve to dump us out on penalties. The cup may not be a priority, but such poor showings cannot go unnoticed. A bad month from CSKA drops them down to third, and allows us to retake our rightful spot at the top of the table, leading by three from our rivals and Krasnodar. It's good to say Kuban in a more stable position than last year, while at the other end Baltika look doomed already. Coming up in the next few weeks we'll reach the halfway point and conclude our Champions League campaign, so it'll be a key month or so for Spartak. The thing is, they all are these days.
  7. Hmmm. After a flying start in August, September was a much more mixed month. In cup competitions, we've been very good - the second string blasting past second-tier Tom Tomsk over in Siberia, and the first team getting our Champions League campaign off to the perfect start, a goal in each half seeing us past Juventus. That win should make others sit up and take up notice - but it will also put a target on our backs. In more prosaic matters, one win from three in the league is unacceptable form, especially given our opponents. We should be beating the likes of Sibir, needed a last-gasp winner to beat lowly Yenisey on our own patch, and then blew an early lead to suffer defeat at midtable Terek. Chechnya or otherwise, it isn't the sort of match we can be losing if we're to harbour title aspirations, and we need to turn things around rapidly next month if we're to stay in touch. For the time being, we're just about in contention, sitting just two points off the top of the pile. Zenit have been miserable, picking up just one point this month, but of more concern to us are CSKA. Our city rivals have been perfect other than that 6-1 hammering they took off us, and are looking like the team to beat at the moment. We'll be aiming to change that, of course, but will need to up the ante if we want to hold on to our title.
  8. If the first five games of a league campaign were an accurate indicator of how things would pan out over the course of the year, then it'd be time to write our name on the Champions League trophy, let alone hand over the domestic title. Ufa were edged 1-0 on the road for our opening game, and from then on we've been simply untouchable. Krasnodar had no answer, Vorobjov exploding into life with a hat-trick as we smashed six past them for a thumping win. The Anzhi game was not as close as the scoreline looks either, Vorobjov's 87th minute goal making it 4-1 before the Dagestanis grabbed two in stoppage time. Then came the big one - a round four clash with CSKA. Prudnikov set the ball rolling after 90 seconds, and by 20 minutes in we were 3-0 to the good. CSKA pulled one back but we never let up, and by the time the final whistle blew there wasn't a single away fan left in the Otkritie. Superb. We backed it up with a 3-0 win over Rostov, all three goals coming in eight first-half minutes. If we can keep up this form, we'll be unstoppable this season. I only hope it'll be that easy. As we blitzed our way through August, the Champions League draw was made - my Spartak heading straight into the group stage as Russian champions. Holding only a third seed we pulled out two giants in Juventus and Arsenal, while poor Dinamo Minsk should be whipping boys. I'm not confident of our chances, but I won't be telling the players that. Not after getting through last year. As you might expect, five from five puts us top at this early stage. Zenit have started well, and CSKA hold a +7 goal difference despite losing by five at our place - all the signs are pointing to another good race this season.
  9. After a busy pre-season, we're once again ready to go for the new campaign. The two 'big' friendlies saw us give my old side a hammering before losing comfortably to Dortmund, which may or may not give us an indication of where we stand in the European scheme of things at the moment. Local sides then took their annual hammerings as we tuned up fitness and performance, and if the firepower on show here is anything to go by, we're set for a decent year. The Super Cup suggests otherwise though - Zenit matched us blow for blow, and their early goal was enough to get the job done in the national stadium. I don't mind them taking the trophy - it's a glorified friendly anyway - but the result and performance is concerning. Perhaps we aren't as good as we thought we were? Last but not least, the transfer window. Plenty of departures, but the overwhelming departures were on loan. Novikov spent last year out on loan, as did Thé - the last outsider in the ranks - but they were the only two men even close to the starting line-up who moved on. Arriving were just five: three youngsters who may or may not develop, and two men who I've managed before. Arriving very cheaply from Tosno is former Kuban man Kozacuks, who will do a job in one of the two defensive midfield roles and has a great deal of top flight and international experience for a man of just 25. The big signing however is Prudnikov, who will line up alongside former Shakhtar team-mate Fedorenko after we failed to convince Manchester United to send Polyakov our way for another year. The Ukrainian is young, creative, and strong mentally - an ideal Spartak signing as we look to retain the title. Not long now before we get underway.
  10. As I suspected might have been the case, we needn't need to lift a finger to claim the title. CSKA couldn't break down Zenit in the earlier of our two matches, held to a 0-0 draw in St Petersburg, giving us an unassailable lead at the top of the pile. To win back the league at the first attempt, and with such a large margin of victory, is hugely pleasing. With the league wrapped up, we went out and played with freedom against Khimki, winning 3-1 in the Moscow suburbs. We then did what CSKA couldn't, hammering Zenit 4-1 and then giving Tosno a pasting for good measure. With a good numbers of youngsters on the field we fell to a third defeat of the season in Krasnodar, but a similarly youthful side ended the season in style with a thrashing of Yenisey, and the future looks every bit as bright as the present. 13 points is the final margin of victory, CSKA left trailing in our wake. Krasnodar won the fight for third comfortably in the end but are still some way off challenging for the title, while Armavir were surprise Europa League qualifiers ahead of another couple of strong seasons from Ufa and Khimki. Zenit had the worst campaign of the big sides, finishing down in 8th with fewer than half our points. At the other end, Kuban dodged the play-offs by a couple of points, Rubin by far the biggest side at risk of dropping down. Amkar were doomed from the beginning, while Tosno were the victims of Yenisey's late-season surge and falling through the trapdoor. These are the men who won the title back, and the first thing that jumps out at me is the number of goals we scored this season - four men into double figures for the campaign, and three of those netting 17 or more. Vorobjov was the focal point of our attack more often than not, the big signing showing why we were willing to spend so much on him, but Kolosov and Kostenko backed him up ably as the three strikers rotated. Behind them, our defence was also excellent. Borovkov was a revelation up and down the right, grabbing 11 assists as well as defensive security, while Ivashin was immovable at the heart of the back line, his imperious presence helping us keep out opposition great and small. There's also a good number of youngsters coming through - something I'm keen to add to throughout my tenure - and it seems we're in a good place to push on. Looking to next year, retaining the title has to be a priority. Spartak haven't managed that this decade, and back-to-back league crowns will put us on the way to establishing a dynasty in red and white. I'd like to see us go further in the cup - if we win the league there's no reason we can't do a double - while Europe will no doubt be slower progress. It was great to see us in the last 16 this season, and knockout football will once again be the focus in the Champions League. Once we get there, who knows what we can achieve? -- Spartak were once again kings of Russia, and convincingly so - Saparow leading his side to a double-figure league win to claim the domestic crown in emphatic fashion. CSKA had been firmly dethroned, and his first season at his boyhood club could hardly have gone better. Our Turkmen hero would not be resting on his laurels however. Europe remained the ultimate goal, and the Champions League would not conquer itself. Not only that, but a single league title was nowhere near enough for Bahtiyar and his insatiable appetite for success. It would be another busy summer in Moscow.
  11. With Europe down and the cup no longer concerning us, April was all about the league. The first game of the month saw us scrape past Rubin, the disciplined hosts falling only thanks to a set-piece which defensive rock Ivashin nodded home. Amkar proved no threat back at home, the league's bottom club conceding twice in the first 20 minutes to give us an easy win. Then came the Anzhi game. I'm not entirely sure what happened, but the Dagestani side hit us twice on the counter, once in each half, and we could only get on the scoreboard in stoppage time. It was only our second league defeat of the season, our first at home, and I demanded a response from my men. We got it. Down in Samara, Krylya Sovetov were simply blown away in a superb spell towards the end of the first half, four goals flying in in just eight minutes to secure the win. We weren't down though, Chernukho grabbing a rare goal from the anchor position and Kostenko grabbing his third and fourth goals of the match to round out a 7-1 hammering. After that, a 3-1 home win over Kuban seemed reasonably tame - although my old side left us waiting until the final moments before sealing the points. That string of results put us in a very promising position indeed, with CSKA simply unable to match our pace at the top of the table. A poor patch for our rivals sees them fall 14 points behind with just 15 remaining to play for, meaning one more win for us or any other slip-ups for CSKA hand us the crown. They travel to Zenit before we travel to Khimki in the next round of games, and we could be champions before even kicking a ball.
  12. Thank you very much optimus - that means a lot coming from the author of my favourite thread at the moment! See you in a few seasons' time
  13. We started with the Champions League clash with Chelsea, and so we'll begin there. At the Otkritie we fell behind early on before a superb Polyakov free-kick got us back level, and a hard-fought second half ended up goalless. In London, the Blues caught us off guard early on, and despite our pushing we fell to a late second. It's disappointing to be out, but considering we only sneaked through the group, this is a positive first step. We were also dumped out of the cup, contriving to lose to Tosno after extra time. Yes, we rotated the side, but there were enough top layers to be able to overcome what is effectively a midtable outfit. In the league though, we've been imperious. Kolosov destroyed Rostov on their own patch, Armavir put up very little fight at the Otkritie, and then came the game against CSKA. They had an early lead to defend from the opening stages, but we dominated from start to finish and got our reward with three goals in the last 20 minutes to claim a massive win against our biggest challengers. After the disappointment of Chelsea, we reinforced our position at home with a 1-0 win in Grozny, and heading into the final third of the campaign we're looking good. With 10 games to go, our win over CSKA puts us nine points clear - which at this point should be a big enough lead. We've only dropped seven points in the 20 matches thus far, so the prospect of dropping more than that in the last third of the season isn't an overly concerning one. Behind the top two, everyone from Khimki to Terek is separated by just six points, and Ufa to Yenisey are split by five. There are effectively three mini leagues going on - all we need to do is make sure we come out top of ours.
  14. It's been a quiet winter for us on the transfer front, with nobody heading through the exit door and just one arrival. Korzun was Dinamo Minsk's brightest prospect, and while he's got plenty of growing to do and was probably overpriced at £400k, even if doesn't work out we should be able to make that money back on him and then some. If he develops as hoped, Fedorenko and Polyakov will have good competition on their hands. On the field, a couple of home draws - a good show against Salzburg and a poor one vs Vorskla - preceded the usual tour around our capital in a bid to get everyone back up to speed. Chelsea won't take pity on us for coming off the back of a break, so we've got to be ready. The main event of the winter was, however, the annual youth intake, and my first as Spartak boss. Iljin is the coaches' favourite, but he'll need retraining given our lack of wingers, but they're also keen on young Philippov and of him I'm more convinced. It's always good to have a couple of promising goalkeepers on the books, and he is already the excellent combination of strong in the air without being erratic. He's by no means the finished article, but he's a very good read for a lad of 15.
  15. Dinamo Tbilisi (GEO) vs Zrinjski Mostar (BIH) The early qualifying rounds of European competition are a goldmine if you happen to be a fan of anything Eastern European, with seemingly endless former Soviet, Yugoslav and Eastern Bloc sides taking to the stage. Dinamo Tbilisi are a Soviet powerhouse fallen on tougher times, while Zrinjski Mostar are Bosnia’s hope in this year’s competition. This could prove a close one. All notions of a cagey start were blown out of the water in the opening minutes however, as the Bosnians mounted successive attacks on the Dinamo goal. From one of these Sergiy Litovchenko was forced to tip a shot round the post, and Oliver Petrak’s corner resulted in an almighty scramble, defender Slobodan Jakovljevic getting the decisive touch from all of a yard out. You might have expected Dinamo to roar into life, but their opponents simply wouldn’t let them. The hosts edged possession, but lively pressing from Zrinjski ensured that creating chances was a tough task indeed. The closest to a leveller the first half saw came through winger Giorgi Papunashvili’s rising drive, but the Bosnians reached the break in the lead and looking good for a first-leg lead. They soon had the ball in the net for a second too, although Croatian midfielder Mate Pehar was denied by the linesman’s flag – much to the chagrin of team-mate and countryman Petrak, who was booked for his remonstrations. That did seem to jolt the Georgians into life, although again the visiting defence continued to hold firm. That is, until the 87th minute. Papunashvili was again involved, crossing from the left only to find a Zrinjski head. However, his side regained possession, and after working the ball from left to right on the edge of the area, found forward Otar Kvernadze in the space he needed to fire home at the near post. The small but vocal crowd of some 2,300 at the Boris Paichadzis Arena roared in celebration, and the scores for level. For all of three minutes. A Bosnian attack broke down 30 yards from goal, Saba Lobzhandize played a hopeful ball into space for substitute Tsotni Meskhi to chase, and when his team-mate got to the ball ahead of his man, he timed his run to perfection to meet the incoming cross and glance a volley past the goalkeeper. Zrinjski will feel unfortunate not to have taken at least a draw back to Mostar, but will still have high hopes of going through after a decent performance in the Georgian capital. Dinamo Tbilisi 2-1 Zrinjski Mostar (Kvernadze 87, Lobzhanidze 90; Jakovljevic 8) Dudelange (LUX) vs Celtic (SCO) If Dinamo and Zrinjski were billed as two sides matched closely with one another, then the clash between Luxembourgish champions Dudelange and Scottish giants Celtic was quite the opposite. Celtic had been upset plenty of times before in the early qualifying stages of European competition, but there were very few people willing to bet against anything other than a comfortable victory for the Glasgow side across the two legs. From the outset, Celtic dominated possession, controlling the ball for roughly two thirds of the game at the Stade Josy Barthel. Dudelange were quick to retreat into a defensive shape in a bid to catch their visitors on the break, but the opportunities were few and far between, Brendan Rodgers’ men careful not to leave any gaps at the back as they slowly moved forward. For the best part of half an hour, the hosts defended resolutely. However, there was nothing they could do about the move that opened the scoring, a quick passing move finishing when Manchester City loanee Patrick Roberts threaded a pass between two defenders for Moussa Dembele to latch onto and fire home. The 1-0 lead held comfortably until the break, and Celtic were in cruise control. That control would not last though, thanks to the ever-present threat posed by their captain’s temper. Scott Brown had picked up a first-half booking for going in late on Mario Pokar, and just after the hour mark he found himself trudging off the field early, the Celtic skipper carelessly bundling substitute Joel Pedro to the ground and receiving his marching orders. It was a glimmer of hope for Dudelange, and moments later Craig Gordon was forced into his first save of the game. He would be called into action again shortly afterwards when Dominik Stolz fired from range, but despite the hosts finally getting a toehold in the match, they could not find their way past a Celtic side hampered by the loss of a key midfielder. The Luxembourgish champions would have been pleased with a narrow loss had it remained even numerically, but with a defeat and an away conceded, their failure to level the match almost certainly ends their hopes of an upset. Dudelange 0-1 Celtic (Dembele 28, Brown s/o 60)
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