Given Celtic’s frequent struggles with European football, it is something of a surprise to look at Europa League Group E and see the Scottish champions occupying top spot ahead of Lazio, Rennes and their Champions League conquerors Cluj. Since the opening night of the competition, the Hoops have enjoyed a draw in France and an emphatic home win in revenge over the Romanian side – but tonight, Neil Lennon’s side will face Lazio, their toughest challenge so far.
The Glasgow club have a mixed record at Celtic Park against top Italian sides – their last outing against such an opponent saw them draw 3-3 with Inter Milan, with the return leg ending 1-0 to the Italian side after Celtic were reduced to ten men. At their best, the Bhoys have managed to defeat the likes of AC Milan and Juventus on European nights in the East End of the city. Even some fairly ropey Celtic sides have managed decent results against the cream of the Italian crop, as the aforementioned draw with Inter demonstrates – that’s a result that came during the ill-fated Ronny Deila era.
Both attacks looking strong
Although Lazio’s current league position of seventh, ten points behind Juventus, is not where they would wish to be, there are some causes for fan optimism. Not least among these is their impressive scoring rate, where they are currently averaging two goals per game, a better return than even the league leaders. More than half of the 16 they have scored in the league, though, have come from the irrepressible Ciro Immobile – who rumours suggest will be rested for tonight’s game with coach Simone Inzaghi wanting the player fresh for the weekend’s game against Fiorentina.
Celtic, meanwhile, will rely for goals on their record signing Odsonne Edouard. The French forward has been instrumental in their positive start to the season, and his headed opener against Cluj showed his penalty-box instincts. The former PSG trainee was also among the goals last weekend, scoring twice as his side defeated Ross County 6-0. With Edouard in form, the price of 4/1 to notch the first goal tonight, on offer from William Hill, is definitely worth looking at.
The “Celtic Park effect” will play its part
The raucous atmosphere at Parkhead on European nights has claimed its fair share of “big club” hides in the past, with names such as Messi, del Piero, Rooney and Kaka all having ended up on the losing side on trips to this part of Glasgow. Against that backdrop, defeating Lazio would not be the biggest shock. With that said, the present-day Celtic side cannot quite lay claim to the quality of the teams that went before. It’s hard to see this Hoops team defeating the Serie A champions when the chips are down. But then, Lazio aren’t the Serie A champions, and the chips aren’t exactly down, either.
Not only that, but one of the reasons Celtic sit atop Group E is the fact that Cluj, who came here and lost last time out, opened up their Europa League campaign with a 2-1 win over Lazio. There’s no doubt that the Roman side are beatable at this level, and if Cluj can do it, then surely Celtic can. With that said, we don’t expect the Hoops to keep a clean sheet, whether Immobile plays or not. We’d back Celtic to win and BTTS, at Fun88, where it is priced at 3/1.
A close-fought game which could go either way
The life of Group E up to this point has shown how quickly things can change in football. At the half-time stage of the first Matchday, Lazio and Rennes led Cluj and Celtic respectively. The second halves of both matches saw the result turn against the “bigger” sides. On Matchday Two, Lazio fell behind to Rennes shortly after the break, but by the final whistle had turned the scoreline their way and won 2-1. In short, there have been plenty of twists and turns in this group so far, and there’s every chance there will be more tonight.
With Lazio having some ground to make up – they’re currently outside the qualification spots for the next stage, although it is early days – we’d expect them to put in an attacking performance here. However, there is a reason their excellent attack hasn’t secured them a higher spot than 7th in the league – in short, it’s that their defence isn’t quite as excellent. As the stakes rise the longer this game goes on, it’s reasonable to expect mistakes, and we can see both teams scoring in the second half – an eventuality rated at 2/1 by Betfair. The cauldron that is Celtic Park on a big European night more or less demands an end-to-end battle on occasions such as this.
Bets of the Day
Both Teams To Score in 2nd Half (Betfair, 2/1); Odsonne Edouard to score first (William Hill, 4/1); Celtic win and BTTS (Fun88, 3/1)