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Lennon gets a little help from his friends

The prize for Celtic is to make a mark on history.

Victor Wanyama will be a very important player for Celtic on Tuesday   Photograph: SNS
Victor Wanyama will be a very important player for Celtic on Tuesday Photograph: SNS

No Scottish team have reached the last eight of the knockout stages of the Champions League, and the possibility of distinction has drawn others to the club's cause.

When the team were in Marbella during the winter break, Alex Miller, the former Hibernian and Aberdeen manager who has a house in the region, met the Parkhead coaching staff and provided some of his scouting knowledge of Juventus. Neil Lennon himself watched the Turin side against Genoa last week, where he bumped into Martin Ferguson, the Manchester United scout, who also offered some advice. Contemporaries at the recent League Managers Association forum were also keen to make suggestions.

"You take all the information on board and try to formulate it into the team," Lennon said.

A manager can be overwhelmed by options, but Lennon has never seemed susceptible to muddled thinking. Juventus use a conventional 3-5-2 formation and Lennon is toying with matching up Celtic's system, since that ploy worked well when his team played Udinese last season.

There are consequences to tinkering, though, particularly since the earliest that Efe Ambrose is likely to return after the Africa Cup of Nations final is tomorrow evening, just 24 hours before the game. In the absence of Ambrose, Lennon would have to consider moving Victor Wanyama back into defence, but the Kenyan's force and presence in midfield are vital commodities.

Every option can be considered, but the obligation on Lennon is to send out a side who are capable of asserting themselves against a team used to being psychologically stronger than their opponents.

Juventus were unbeaten in Serie A last season, and although there have been setbacks during this campaign, Antonio Conte's side are unlikely to be vulnerable to intimidation. The sheer might of the team – physically and mentally – means Celtic need to be at their most resolute.

"They are strong, organised and they all know their positions on the pitch," Lennon said. "They are very pragmatic but clinical in the final third, with [Andrea] Pirlo, [Paul] Pogba and [Arturo] Vidal in the middle and the two strikers [who] play together, very much like Henrik [Larsson] and Chris [Sutton] used to do with little step-overs and flicks round the corner. Like a well-oiled machine, they go forward together and defend together. They have good athletes."

The assessment is brutal, since it leaves little room for optimism to assert itself. Even so, Lennon believes his players "can get at them". The victory over Barcelona at Celtic Park in the group stages last November has emboldened the team but they have never feared for their own fate when they play in Glasgow.

Juventus will not be daunted by the intensity of the atmosphere, but the raw emotion of the crowd can be uplifting for the home players. The initial skirmish will be for supremacy in midfield, and Lennon will spend most time dwelling over his options for that area of the team.

Wanyama's presence is assured. The 21-year-old was brilliantly domineering against Barcelona, and the rough edges of his game tend to be diminished by the scale of the challenge he faces. Celtic fans will, for instance, still be irked by his timid display in the Scottish Communities League Cup semi-final defeat by St Mirren last month. Nonetheless, Wanyama, pictured, can be uncontainable, and it is inevitable that a young player is still impressionable enough to be influenced by the occasion.

"He brings strength, power and he reads the game very well," Lennon said of the midfielder. "He is quick across the ground and is a very technical player. He has a goal in him. As you could see from his performances against Barcelona, he rises to the occasion. He found an extra five yards of pace from somewhere when he was breaking away from Xavi and [Andres] Iniesta. He will be very important."

Wanyama will be a vital figure, particularly if Celtic are to be able to wrestle control of the game in the midfield from their opponents. He is also undaunted, having spoken to his brother, the Internazionale midfielder McDonald Mariga, about Juventus.

"He knows Juventus and says impossible is nothing, anybody can win," Wanyama said. "I believe in my team-mates. If everyone gives their all then I believe we are going to get a positive result. Beating Juve would be a bigger step than beating Barcelona because at this stage it would be a massive bonus for us and give us the chance to go to another level of the Champions League."

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