Celtic get their Champions League qualification campaign under way on Friday, July 14 when they take on Northern Irish champions Linfield in the second qualifying round.
Brendan Rodgers' side come into the game after an easy 9-0 friendly victory over Irish side Shamrock Rovers, having already drawn against Rapid Vienna and Slavia Prague in pre-season exhibition matches. Linfield, meanwhile, scraped through with a narrow 1-0 aggregate win over San Marino's La Fiorita in the first qualifying round.
The first leg in Belfast takes place at an early time on July 14 due to an agreement reached between both clubs, UEFA and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), who were keen not to see the game clash with a contentious Orange Order march on July 12 due to security concerns.
|Game||Linfield vs Celtic|
|Date||Friday, July 14|
CELTIC TV CHANNEL & LIVE STREAM
In the United Kingdom, the match will be available to watch live on television on Premier Sports and by stream via the Premier Player app.
Fans outside of the UK and Ireland will also be able to watch the game live on Celtic TV, Celtic's in-house broadcasting service.
|UK TV channel||Online stream|
|Premier Sports||Premier Player|
CELTIC TEAM NEWS
Celtic are likely to have a full strength squad to choose from for the game, including new signing Jonny Hayes, who scored in the 9-0 friendly win over Shamrock Rovers last Saturday.
Scott Brown was taken off before half-time in the game against Rovers due to an Achilles problem, sparking concerns that the captain might miss the game against Linfield, but Brendan Rodgers remains optimistic. He told Celtic TV : "[Brown's] Achilles was a little bit sore and we just need to assess that over the next couple of days, but [it is] nothing too serious I don’t think."
Key players such as Moussa Dembele, Scott Sinclair and Kieran Tierney all came through the exhibition game unscathed, though, and should be in the reckoning to start against the Blues.
from yesterday's 9-0 win over @ShamrockRovers in Dublin as #CelticFC donned their new away kit for the first time! #HereWeGoAgain pic.twitter.com/LPfNk9cfE8 — Celtic Football Club (@celticfc) July 9, 2017
One player who was not involved against Rovers was Kundai Benyu, a new arrival to the club from Ipswich Town. The 19-year-old featured for the Celtic development squad in a friendly against East Kilbride Thistle instead, and he may have done enough to push himself into the mix for a place in the squad after scoring in the 3-1 win.
The game may come too soon for new signing from Manchester City, Olivier Ntcham, while the Bhoys will also be without Gary Mackay-Steven, who has joined Aberdeen on a two-year deal.
Linfield, meanwhile, come into the game against Celtic having suffered a 4-1 friendly defeat against Scottish Premiership outfit Hearts, but manager David Healy was keen to accentuate the positives. "It was a game that we needed, coming off the back of the European games [against La Fiorita], before we play Celtic next week," Healy told the official Linfield website.
CELTIC BETTING ODDS
Celtic are 1/9 favourites to win at Windsor Park according to Oddschecker, while Linfield are variously priced at 20/1, 22/1 and even 33/1 to beat the Scottish giants. A draw between the teams in Belfast, meanwhile, is rated as a 15/2 bet by most bookmakers.
Bhoys strikers Leigh Griffiths (23/10) and Moussa Dembele (12/5) are tight favourites to score first in Belfast, with Scott Sinclair is close behind at 10/3. Linfield fans might take a punt on Andy Waterworth to score first at 11/1 or the precocious Paul Smyth at 16/1, while Jordan Stewart, who scored against La Fiorita in the last round is rated 18/1 to open the scoring.
CELTIC GAME PREVIEW
The clash with Linfield at Windsor Park is Celtic's first competitive game of the new season and Brendan Rodgers will be determined for his side to avoid a repeat of their display at this stage of the Champions League last term, when they lost 1-0 to Lincoln Red Imps in Gibraltar.
Ultimately Celtic triumphed 3-1 at Parkhead, but the defeat against the minnows was an embarrassing experience for the Scottish champions, who eventually reached the group stage after wins over Astana and Hapoel Be'er Sheva.
The Bhoys have a more settled squad heading into the new campaign and Rodgers has had time to imprint his philosophy on the players, with the likes of Moussa Dembele and Scott Sinclair emerging as hot properties. Games against Rapid Vienna, Slavia Prague and Shamrock Rovers have Celtic well-primed for their showdown against the Blues.
Linfield manager David Healy is under no illusions about the scale of the task that awaits his side, but insists that there is absolutely no pressure on his players.
"I beleve my players could certainly rise to the occasion. We have no pressure on us," Healy told the Belfast Newsletter. "I hope there is a realism within our fans that we are playing a very good side.
"Celtic can dominate most teams in British football at the minute, so we know we are up against it. But we are under no pressure. If we lose the game, we lose the game. Nobody is expecting us to win.
"As long as enjoy it and play to our maximum. If we do that, which we will need to, then we will see where it takes us."
Build-up to the first leg has been dominated by off-field concerns and on July 11, a racist banner directed at Celtic star Sinclair was pictured adorning a traditional marching season bonfire in Belfast. No tickets were made available to Celtic supporters for the game, meaning that it will be a one-sided affair, at least in the stands.