This Thursday, Celtic will take on Spanish giants Valencia in the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League in what is sure to be a tough test for Brendan Rodgers’ Bhoys.
Both sides have had fairly difficult routes to get to this point in the tournament, with Celtic sailing very close to the wind but just eeking through their group, thanks to some late heroics in Germany from Rosenborg defender Tore Reginiussen.
Valencia’s campaign to this point has also been a bit bumpy, with the Murcielagos putting in some underwhelming performances of late. Their performance away to Young Boys was particularly below par, as they spent the majority of the game under the cosh from the Swiss champions.
But what does all this mean for Thursday’s bout between the two sides? Let’s talk about that.
Players to Watch
Celtic – Callum McGregor
If you ask me, Callum McGregor is the best Scottish footballer around at the moment, and without a doubt, Celtic’s most important player.
Without the 25 year old pulling the strings in the middle of the park, Celtic are prone to losing control of the play; as seen at Ibrox in December when injuries to Kieran Tierney and Emilio Izaguirre forced McGregor out of centre mid and slotting in at left back.
His versatility is incredible, and beyond his skill as a playmaker the Scotland international also knows how to find the back of the net, and is no stranger to scoring on the big occasions, having scored for Celtic at the same stage of the competition last year against Zenit St Petersburg.
Valencia – Daniel Parejo
You could make the argument that Daniel Parejo has never been better than he is right now.
The 29-year-old has been a real talisman for Valencia since they signed him from Getafe back in the summer of 2011 for €6 million, and is widely seen as the driving force behind the creative aspects of Valencia’s play.
Both from dead balls and open play, the Spaniard’s passing and vision could ultimately prove to be Celtic’s undoing.
If the Celts really want to stand up to their opponents on Thursday, they better find a way of shutting Parejo down. If they don’t, problems could soon arise.
Celtic – After ending 2018 on a massive low, facing defeat against bitter rivals Rangers for the first time in over two years, Celtic have begun 2019 with a real bang.
The treble-treble chasers have won every game they’ve played so far this year and January new bhoys Oliver Burke, Timothy Weah and Jeremy Toljan have all taken well to life in Glasgow.
Celtic won 5-0 against St Johnstone in their last outing, a game that saw Celtic through to the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup.
Celtic’s last six: WWWWWW
Valencia – Valencia also ended 2018 in defeat, and in truth, the first half of the season did not run smoothly at all for the Spaniards – who drew 16 matches in all competitions.
And while they did not start the new year as well as they had hoped, losing their first two games of January to Deportivo Alaves and Sporting Gijon, they are unbeaten in their last five game: including a win against fifth placed Getafe and a draw at the Nou Camp against table topping Barcelona. They now sit 8th in the La Liga table.
Valencia’s last six: LWWDDD
This game promises to be a really interesting tie.
Celtic have the superior form, and perhaps that added confidence will give their players the edge they need to see off the La Liga side.
Furthermore, Celtic have a number of key players currently on really hot form, including Scott Brown, Scott Sinclair and Oliver Burke.
With that said, Celtic have been facing off against considerably less challenging opponents on the domestic front than Valencia, and the Spaniards also possess a far stronger squad, especially considering Celtic’s current injury woes.
Celtic also have a tendency to struggle under pressure in Europe these days, and it seems a far cry from the days of old where Celtic Park was a fortress.
Also, worth mentioning is that Valencia played away to Manchester United and Juventus, showing some real steel to strangle their attacking flare. If they can frustrate sides of that quality, they should be able to cause Celtic some problems.
Ultimately, I think the home side are going to edge this one 2-1. The game will be a huge test for the Celtic players, but I think they have the quality to overcome the challenge �E