After being knocked out of Champions League qualifying by CFR Cluj, Celtic fans’ eyes are, somewhat reluctantly, turning to the Europa League. The draw took place on 30th August, with Celtic placed in Group E, alongside Lazio, Rennes and the now-familiar CFR Cluj…
Not the worst group
As far as Europa League groups go, Group E is far from an easy ride. Celtic fans would no-doubt rather be in Group C, which is the easiest group on paper with Basel, Krasnodar, Getafe and Trabzonspor.
That said, things could be worse. Lazio were the lowest ranked Italian side in the draw, finishing 8th in Serie A last season. Meanwhile, Rennes qualified by winning the Coupe de France, finishing 10th in the league table. Despite knocking Celtic out of the Champions League qualifiers, CFR Cluj could offer Celtic a valuable six or four points in the group stages.
Compare this to Rangers’ group, for instance, with Standard Liege, Frankfurt and Arsenal, and you can see that Celtic have been quite fortunate.
Chances in the group stage
It’s now easier than ever to find the latest odds and back your team. You can read more on this site about the Coral betting app, for instance. According to the bookies, Lazio are clear favourites in Group E. However, the runners up spot could be up for grabs.
Rennes and Celtic are both available at similar odds of around 4/1 to win the group, with Cluj the clear outsiders at around 10/1.
Into the knockouts
Long gone are the glory days of the 60s and 70s, with Celtic reaching semi-finals, finals and even lifting the trophy. The question now is: what can be considered a success?
Celtic’s fortunes in Europe have been somewhat mixed over the last few seasons. The Bhoys were knocked out of the Round of 32 in the Europa League by Valencia in 2018 and Zenit in 2017, plus Inter Milan a few years earlier. Unfortunately, the last few Champions League groups have been borderline impossible to get through too. Barcelona and Man City in 2016 was followed by PSG and Munich in 2017.
The last time the club progressed through a European knockout round was back in 2004, reaching the quarter finals of the then-UEFA Cup. Just a year earlier, Celtic were runners up, losing to Porto in the final after beating none other than Liverpool in the quarter finals.
With that in mind, it’s reasonable to see any progression past the Round of 32 as a relative success.
Are Celtic prepared?
Neil Lennon had a bit of a clear out over the summer, with four players – Boyata, Duffy, Compper and Gamboa – leaving on a free. At the same time, however, Kieran Tierney departed for £25 million, leaving a big void on the left flank.
His replacement came in the form of Boli Bolingoli Mbobo, who signed for £3 million from Rapid Vienna. Overall, Celtic fans were pleased with the new left-back in his first Old Firm derby at the start of September. Celtic kept a clean sheet and Boli Bolingoli dealt with everything Rangers had to throw at him.
Elsewhere, Lennon has managed to bring back Fraser Forster on loan from Southampton. Who can forget Forster’s performance against Barcelona in the 2012-13 Champions League, helping Celtic to a 2-1 win. Dubbed “The Great Wall” by Spanish media, Forster could play a big part in Celtic’s European campaign this season too.
All in all, the signs are good for Celtic this season. That said, it will all be decided on the pitch. Celtic face Rennes away on 19th September before CFR Cluj visit Celtic Park in early October.