It’s the opening round of Europa League group matches on Thursday as UEFA’s second competition gets started. Followers of Scottish football have two points of interest with champions Rangers and Old Firm rivals Celtic taking part.
The Glasgow sides made it through to the groups after tumbling down from the Champions League qualifiers, and both will hope to still be in the running after six games. Rangers enjoy home advantage when hosting French side Lyon in Group A after Celtic go to Real Betis.
A tough opener for poor travellers Celtic
Bayer Leverkusen are the early favourites to win Group G, with Real Betis and Celtic expected to battle it out for the runners up spot ahead of Ferencvarosi TC. The Spanish La Liga has a fantastic reputation in this competition, and Real Betis will be eager to build on that and draw first blood in the shootout with Celtic. A home win over their rivals at the earliest opportunity would place The Greens in a commanding position.
Celtic warmed up for this match with a home win over Ross County, but they were made to work hard for the points by a very ordinary opponent. The Staggies spent much of the game camped in their half but seemed to handle the challenge as Celtic huffed and puffed their way through the 90 minutes. It took the Bhoys until the 64th minute to get their noses in front, and then the floodgates opened with three goals scored in 21 minutes.
Saturday’s win over Ross County brought manager Ange Postecoglou’s league stats to three wins against two defeats which won’t do much to alleviate the fears of his many doubters in Glasgow. They were beaten 1-0 by a Covid-ravaged Rangers in the Old Firm derby, and their away form in European competition is abysmal.
Celtic shouldn’t attract too much attention in the match winner market at odds of 4.94/1, with the draw available at 4.03/1. Given the club’s lack of flair in attack at the weekend, under 2.5 goals in this match will do a job in your accumulators at 1.9620/21.
Betis have made a slow start to their La Liga campaign, picking up just two of the first nine points that have been available to them. In their first two matches, the locals drew 1-1 against Mallorca and Cadiz before sinking to a 1-0 home defeat against Real Madrid. It was a quick turnaround for Betis after playing Granada away from home on Monday while Celtic were on Saturday.
The home win is 1.748/11 on the Betfair exchange. That looks like a bet worth having as they enjoy the home advantage and meet an opponent in a poor run of form, especially on the road in Europe. Back Real Betis to get off to a winning start.
Draw would suit both sides at Ibrox
Rangers and Lyon meet for the third time in competitive action when clashing at Ibrox Park in Group A. The sides have already served up two memorable matches in the 2007 Champions League, with the head-to-head at one victory each. Gers won 3-0 in France before their opponents returned the favour in Glasgow. Will this renewal fall into line and provide us with another thriller?
Scottish champions Rangers were disappointed at missing out on Champions League involvement to Malmo, but Steven Gerrard’s side has responded in style. They came through a tricky qualifier to make it to the group stages of this competition and are sitting back on top of the Premiership with a win over Celtic already under their belt.
The boys in blue warmed up for this group opener with a 2-1 win over St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park on Saturday and had to come from behind to do it. Rangers conceded the first goal but had Kemar Roofe and captain James Tavernier to thank for turning defeat into victory. The home win on Thursday is 2.77/4 with the draw 3.412/5. The latter is a result that would suit both teams before kick-off.
Lyon finished fourth in the French Ligue 1 last season and began this campaign hoping to improve on that effort and challenge for the title. If they are to finish this season as champions of France, they must seriously improve their form as they have stumbled out of the blocks and can be found treading water in midtable.
The Kids were winless in their first three league games, picking up just two of the nine points available. They finally got off the mark with an overdue first win of the season on matchday four when beating Nantes 1-0 on the road but were far from convincing on that occasion. Former Celtic star Moussa Dembele got the winner on 35 minutes, and he now turns his sight on his former great rivals.
Since leaving Celtic for Lyon, Dembele has kept in touch with Scottish football and the Bhoys’ support on social media. That shows his love affair with the team continues, and the importance of Thursday’s return to Ibrox won’t be wasted on him.