Bet of the Day: Celtic to take first-leg lead against AIK in Europa League

14th September 2021

After last week’s shock Champions League exit at the hands of Romanian side Cluj, Celtic have dropped into the Europa League’s final qualifying round, where they need to get past Swedish champions AIK. The Stockholm-based side currently sit third in their domestic league, and Neil Lennon’s side can take nothing for granted in this two-legged tie. The Hoops have generally had the upper hand in knockout ties against sides from Sweden – with Elfsborg and Helsingborgs among the teams they have knocked out in the past decade – but they probably would have expected to win a home game with Cluj, too.

Although AIK are not a household name throughout the UK, they are not without players who could do damage to a Celtic side that, in the opinion of just about every fan willing to express an opinion, is about four players from being the finished article. The bookmakers have the Scottish champions as odds-on favourites to progress from this tie, but you’ll go far and wide before finding a supporter who is as confident. Two weeks on from the departure of left-back Kieran Tierney and the resulting windfall of £25million, the Scottish international has not been replaced – with fans fearing that the Champions League elimination has swallowed the bulk of the Tierney fee.

Forrest to light a fire under Celtic

The bizarre thing about how Celtic lost last week’s match was how limp and uninspired the side looked. A European night at Parkhead is normally an event that takes a life of its own; since the inception of the Champions League sides such as AC Milan, Manchester United, Juventus, and Barcelona have come to the East End of Glasgow and left empty-handed. Perhaps the Celtic sides of those eras were marginally better-resourced, but they certainly weren’t filled with names like Shevchenko, Ronaldo and Messi. When it came to finishing off a tie with a 1-1 scoreline and an away goal, this Celtic side lost, conceding four, against Cluj.

For Celtic’s sake, one has to hope that last week’s tribulations will light a fire under them for another European night at Celtic Park. It’s harder to raise an atmosphere for a team featuring Sebastian Larsson than for one with Alessandro del Piero, but that means the players will need to provide their own fire. Perhaps the most reliable source for that right now is James Forrest. Frequently the man to provide something special, the diminutive winger is 6/1 with Betway to score the first goal tonight – and if he can break AIK down early then the Hoops will have something to play for.

Chance for goals at both ends

Disappointing though it was, Celtic’s performance last week did deliver another three goals to go along with the twelve they’ve netted in two league matches so far. Evidently, when they’re on their game, they have players who can finish. Across all competitions attacking midfielder Ryan Christie has grabbed eight goals, with four for striker Odsonne Edouard, another three for Forrest and the same amount for Leigh Griffiths. There are plenty of other players who can pitch in with a few, too, so if they can get hold of the ball Celtic will always be dangerous on nights such as this.

There is however the indisputable fact that, if Celtic are dangerous in the opposition box, they can be pretty lethal in their own. Not to labour a point, but Cluj scored four times last week – so AIK will fancy themselves to get on the scoresheet. In Larsson they have a player who, despite his advancing years, can still fire them in from distance, while Henok Goitom is a regular scorer in the Allsvenskan. Icelandic international Kolbein Sigthorsson, meanwhile, has stays at Ajax and Nantes (as well as a winning goal against England in Euro 2016) on his CV. You’ll get odds of 7/5 at Paddy Power on Both Teams To Score – and it’s not hard to see it happening.

Celtic to prevail over 90 minutes

Every single bookmaker has Celtic at long odds-on to win this match, which begs the question of whether they’ve watched the team over the recent past. AIK are certainly no mugs, and they aren’t going to come here just praying to keep the score down. Celtic realistically need a margin of two goals if they are to go to Stockholm feeling anything that resembles confidence, but Lennon would swipe your hand off for any win tonight; nothing is a foregone conclusion, and the fact that prices suggest any different makes the Hoops unbackable for a straightforward win on the 1X2 market.

If you get a bit more creative, there are odds out there, however. Unibet have a price of 16/5 on the home side to win after being level at half time, and given their difficulty in killing games off in Europe, that’s certainly a price worth taking. Over the ninety minutes, it’s hard to deny that Celtic are favourites – but no Swedish team ever gives up easily, and it’s more than believable that AIK could set out and frustrate the Scottish side early on. Even if Celtic take an early lead, that creaky defence is more than capable of throwing it away, but they should emerge with the win tonight.

Bets of the Day

Both Teams To Score (Paddy Power, 7/5); James Forrest to score first (Betway 6/1); Draw/Celtic HT/FT (Unibet, 16/5)

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