The pressure is on
Scottish Premiership sides Celtic and Rangers return to Europa League group action on Thursday in what will be a crucial night for both. The Bhoys and Bears suffered opening night defeats, meaning the pressure is on to get a result on matchday two and ensure they remain in the running for a place in the tournament’s knockout stages.
Celtic are at home to German Bundesliga giants Bayer Leverkusen who have fond memories of Glasgow after eliminating Rangers over two legs in a COVID-hit campaign. Steven Gerrard takes his side to Prague, where they face Sparta in Group A, a team that boasts a huge recent win over Celtic in this competition. Both need the points, but will they get the desired result?
Group A looks like a competitive pool, and Sparta Prague will consider themselves in the running to finish on top, extending their European adventure into 2022. The home team sit above their opponents after one game played with a point on the board thanks to an opening day draw away to Brondby. That match finished goalless and gave Prague a strong foundation on which to build. They will be in the driving seat for a top-two finish if they can gain three points here.
Iron Sparta warmed up for this game with a stunning 5-2 away win over Zlin on Saturday, but that was the team’s first victory in four tries in all competitions. It followed a 3-2 loss at Viktoria Plzen, that 0-0 at Brondby and a 1-1 at home to Jablonec. Five goals, five different names on the scoresheet and a strong three points. Sparta enters with their tails up.
The home win is priced at 2.747/4 on the Betfair exchange, which will attract attention. Another draw trades at 3.412/5 while both teams to score in a fourth game in five for Prague is likely to appear on a share of multiples at 1.728/11.
Gers must respond to an early setback
Rangers have reached the latter stages of the Europa League in each of the last two seasons under Gerrard, but the club has its work cut out if they are to continue that trend. Rangers lost on matchday one in Glasgow, going down 2-0 against Lyon. It was a competitive match, and Gerrard felt the final score flattered the French, but they were deserved winners without ever hitting top gear.
Gers are top of the Scottish Premiership ahead of Hearts and Hibs as they aim to defend their title and make it two in a row, moving to 56 Scottish championships. The light blues are in pole position on merit and already six points clear of a toiling Celtic, but they have struggled of late. Since losing 2-0 to Lyon, the visitors have drawn 1-1 at home to Motherwell, beat Livingston 2-0 in the cup and saw off Dundee 1-0 on Saturday but survived penalty drama to get the points.
It’s plain to see there is more to come from this Rangers side than they have shown fans in recent weeks, and Gerrard will be eager to see his men hit form on Thursday. Three points would drive them back into contention for a top-two finish, and Rangers look value at 2.6413/8. Alfredo Morelos will be the danger man for the visitors.
Celtic make their home debut in Group G when taking on Bundesliga cracks Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow in front of a full house. The usual electric atmosphere awaits both sets of players, with the locals aiming to roar their team to a result while putting the fear into the visitors. Will it be enough to drive the Bhoys to victory against one of the competition favourites? Everyone connected to the Hoops certainly hope so.
They slipped on matchday one in Spain when losing 4-3 at Real Betis. That was a game they were expected to lose but roared into an early lead before the Spaniards found their feet and battled back. It was an enthralling contest but one that highlights the defensive frailties of the beaten team. Betis fashioned eight shots on target and scored half of them while Celtic had more possession of the ball, 16 attempts and seven shots on target but returned empty-handed.
Since losing to Betis, Celtic’s poor start to the season has continued, and they have lost 1-0 at Livingston in the Premiership, beaten lowly Raith Rovers 3-0 in the League Cup then drew 1-1 at home against Dundee United on Sunday. Despite that run, the home win is available at 3.953/1, which is shorter than many would have expected.
Bayer aiming for the top spot
Bayer Munich are one of the early favourites to win the Europa League outright, but that’s a market that usually changes quite a bit when the third-place finishers from the Champions League groups drop in. The Bundesliga side will certainly rate their chances of winning Group G, and their fans will expect them to progress with a 100% record. If they are to have any chance of achieving that, they must defeat their hosts on Thursday.
Munich got off to a winning start thanks to a 2-1 win over a Ferencvarosi TC team that is expected to struggle, priced like a runner here to make up the numbers. The final score in that match was closer than many expected, and it was the underdogs that took the lead on eight minutes, but Bayer bounced back and collected the points in a convincing fashion. They followed that Europa League success with Bundesliga wins over Stuttgart on the road and Mainz at home.
Celtic may be the home team, but their recent form is poor, and their record in this competition isn’t any better. It was a huge shock to see the mighty Bayer Leverkusen, sitting second in the Bundesliga priced at 1.9720/21 to beat an opponent placed sixth in the Scottish Premiership. Grab the value with both hands. Bayer Munich half time/full time at 2.982/1.