The UEFA Europa League is in full swing again with 24 games played all over Europe tonight. The second round sees the likes of Manchester United travel to Netherlands to face AZ Alkmaar, Arsenal hosting St. Liege and Glasgow Celtic facing their Champions League qualification nemesis CFR Cluj.
The Romanian side kicked Celtic out of the Champions League qualification third round, by shocking the Hoops at Parkhead with 3-4 away win. Eventually their journey was ended by Slavia Prague so Celtic will have a chance for retribution in the two oncoming Europa League fixtures. The other two teams in the group are Italian cup-winning side Lazio from Rome and French cup-winners Stade Rennais.
After a horrific performance last time facing CFR Cluj, Celtic boss Neil Lennon assures they will be better this time around. The previous fixture, one to remember for Cluj and definitely one to be forgotten by the Celtic, took place in August and much has changed since then, Lennon pointed out. “It is a new back four more or less and a new goalkeeper – we’ve been on a very good run since then,” Lennon told BBC Sports.
Even if it is an age old excuse, the qualification games come early for many players and Celtic boss admits they were not mentally nor physically ready at that time. But now it’s a different story: Celtic are unbeaten in the domestic league after seven games and have scored 25 goals only allowing five. Of all the games this season, they’ve only lost one – the one against CFR Cluj in August.
Neil Lennon will have a choice to make in picking his lineup, as midfielder Nir Bitton has recovered from his injury and right-back Moritz Bauer should return as well. Tom Rogic and Mikey Johnston are still doubtful, while Vakoun Issouf Bayo is suspended. Lennon confirmed striker Leigh Griffiths is still not fit for play.
CFR Cluj are on top of their domestic league and will look to add to insult to injury again at Parkhead. They started their Europa League campaign on the positive note by beating Lazio 2-1 at home. In the Romanian league they have won seven of their 11 games, only losing once and scoring 28 goals while allowing eight. Needless to say, Celtic have to be prepared and not underestimate the hungry Romanian side – or the night will end in another disaster at Parkhead.
Celtic – CFR Cluj (1×2): 1.61 – 3.70 – 6.40
Celtic to win UEFA Europa League: 81.00
Celtic to win Europa League Group E: 4.50