Riga warmed up for their clash against Celtic with a 1-0 league win against Valmieras last night.
The Latvians are set to host Neil Lennon’s men in the Europa League third qualifying round on Thursday night. The match will be a one-legged shootout to determine who progresses into the playoff round.
And it appears that they’re managing to set a slightly concerning trend ahead of Thursday too, as they managed to keep their fourth clean sheet in five matches in yesterday’s home win.
Wesley Nata scored the only goal of the game after seven minutes for the hosts as he marked his debut for the club with a winner. He recently joined from Tsarsko Selo Sofia in Bulgaria, and will be eligible to face the Hoops.
The win means that Riga sit four points clear of second-placed RFS in the Latvian Higher League. RFS managed to win 2-0 at Riga’s Skonto Stadium towards the end of August.
Riga’s defensive solidity could be a barrier
Many will look at Riga’s run of four clean sheets in five games and shrug their shoulders. After all, it’s only in Latvia, isn’t it?
Well, that only rings true to an extent. But look at Riga’s home record in Europe. They defeated Copenhagen last season in the Europa League qualifiers in their home leg. They managed a clean sheet in that one as they took the spoils in a 1-0 success.
In their six European home matches, Riga have only conceded two goals in total. They’ve never shipped more than one in a game, and have managed clean sheets against the likes of Copenhagen, CSKA Sofia, and Dundalk respectively.
Yes, we should still have more than enough to break down whatever resistance they have. But the point is we’re not turning up and facing 11 players who can barely kick a ball. This is clearly a well-organised outfit that won’t be pushed over easily.
The fact we have to win the game on the night this Thursday only adds to the awkwardness of the tie.
Make no mistake, Celtic should be heading into the playoff round in comfortable enough fashion. But in order to do that, the players will have to turn up and put in a professional display. Anything other than that and we’re in danger of another shock.