Europa Report

When you get paired with a team from Europe who, last time around got the better of you, there’s often a feeling of dread that history may repeat itself. For Celtic though, this is a chance for retribution after the Europa League draw was made on Friday lunch time.

Celtic were plucked from pot two and placed into Group E but it was pot four that had folk rolling their eyes. Because the team drawn from pot four was none other than CFR Cluj.

For all the misery that the second leg at Celtic Park delivered for Celtic fans, the Romanian champions were not an unbeatable side or indeed a very good one. On the contrary, Celtic pretty much handed the second leg at Celtic Park to Cluj on a plate.

Transfer and injuries aside, Neil Lennon had more than enough to overcome Dan Petrescu’s side. Tactical errors and mishaps by Scotts Bain and Brown cost us a play off spot in the Champions League against Slavia Prague.

We may or may not have got past the Czech champions, but we’ll never know. What we do know is where we are now and that is in Group E of the Europa League with Lazio, Stade Rennais and of course Cluj who failed to overcome the Slavia Prague themselves.

Group E is not a bad draw to be honest and we stand a good chance of making the last 32. In the next couple of days though we need to ensure we have plenty of cover to assist us with the challenges ahead before the transfer window closes on Monday.

Lazio and Celtic have never faced each other competitively, but Neil Lennon and Celtic are very familiar with Stade Rennais and CFR Cluj. Celtic seem destined to play the same teams in Europe over and over again.

The first encounter with the French side was back in 2011, ironically in the Europa League group stage. It was Neil Lennon’s first season in charge and he won 3-1 at Celtic Park and drew 1-1 in Rennes.

Fast forward to 2015 and Ronny Deila took them on in a pre-season friendly, winning 2-0 at Celtic Park. This summer they were back in Glasgow for a feisty friendly which resulted in a 0-0 draw.

Cluj we know all about from this summer of course, but Lennon and Celtic faced them in a preseason friendly back in 2013 as well. That was in Austria when Celtic were at their pre season summer camp, losing the game 2-1.

Now they will go face-to-face again. We can only hope that the mistakes from the game at Celtic Park do not rear their ugly head once more.

Lazio will be a tougher encounter, but they are by no means an unbeatable side. They claimed a place in the Europa League by winning the Coppa Italia, but they finished 8th in Serie A last season.

Like Celtic, they finished second in their Europa League group stage last year and also exited in the last 32, with Sevilla – prolific winner of the trophy – being their conquerors.

These are the confirmed dates and times:

So with the odds very good, there is more reason to feel optimistic. That being the case, the club must capture the players required to make this team fully functional.

Last night Mohamed Elyounoussi signed on a one year loan from Southampton. The left winger wears the number 11 jersey for the Premier League club, but at Celtic that shirt is currently worn by Scott Sinclair.

Sinclair, has been practically frozen out despite the club extending his contract by another year at the end of last season. Most assumed that was to allow the club to consider their options and possibly still make a profit from a summer sale, but with the English transfer window shut a move to any other country looks unlikely.

So now Neil Lennon has a lot of midfield and attacking options. Defensively though we are all still hopeful of one or two additions.

It doesn’t have to be a stupid amount of cash. We just need some quality to provide depth and cover.

Left back remains a key area of concern as currently we have one player in Boli Bolingoli for that role. There is no backup or challenger for the position vacated by Emilio Izaguirre and Kieran Tierney this summer.

You could also question that the central defence options are also low if any injuries and suspensions occur. I have a feeling though that Bitton and Elhamed will be included in those numbers along with Jullien, Ajer and Simunovic with Hendry a possible candidate to go out on loan.

We could also still see some other Celtic players go out on loan, but time is running out. January will give us another chance to buy and sell if we are still in the Europa League, but we need to ensure the squad is strong on all fronts now.

The gap was closed on Celtic last season, but despite that yet another treble was achieved. I don’t think that’ll happen again this season, though that’s what I said last summer and look what happened!

Critically, our neighbours across the city will be occupied on Thursday evenings until Christmas as well. Their late winner at home to Legia Warsaw saw them through to pot four of Friday’s draw and face a group that includes Porto, Young Boys of Berne and Feyenoord – good luck with that one.

Knowing that they will have the same amount of breathing space that Celtic do for domestic games, you can be sure there is no advantage across the city. That could turn out to be crucial in this seasons campaign if Celtic are also fighting the cause in Europe.

Speaking of our neighbours, we are set to face them for the first time this season on Sunday. Neither Glasgow club has dropped points this season, the only clubs in the Scottish Premiership still with maximum points.

Right now, the bookies odds favour the Ibrox club. Last season, both clubs won their home ties against each other which is probably how they’ve sorted those odds.

Gerrard and Lennon have each strengthened their teams. We’ll see who wins this one tomorrow lunchtime if indeed there is one!

Then we’ll just have to wait and see if Celtic do any more business over the next few days. Do use proud on Sunday, Bhoys!

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac