Europa League - Rating the chances of Rangers and Celtic!18.12.2019 14:41:26
Rangers and Celtic unexpectedly made it through to the last 32 of the Europa League. Do either have any chance of going the distance?
Probably not, in all honesty. However, they’ve each improved over the past 12 months, and it’s been a while since we’ve seen a couple of Scottish teams with a serious chance of making it into the last 16. (Then again, Scotland are unlikely to stay in Europe for long anyway.)
Regardless, here’s a rundown of their chances in the competition, as well as a look at whether they’ll be up to scratch in the coming years.
Who’s up next?
Celtic’s 2-0 loss meant little in the grand scheme of things, as they still topped Group E by a single point. It’s mildly impressive considering their group included Cluj, Lazio and Rennes. They’ve been dumped out at this stage for the last two seasons, but they’ve been handed a lifeline in the form of beatable opposition.
FC Copenhagen qualified for the Europa league after winning the Superliga last season, but Celtic are clear favourites heading into the tie. The Scottish leaders will play the second leg at home, and the sides last met in the group stages of the Champions League in 2006. Both Celtic and FC Copenhagen claimed a win apiece, and the former should be confident after a good showing in the group stage.
Rangers were made to sweat as a last-minute own goal by Borna Barisic and a second yellow for Ryan Jack amped by the pressure in the dying stages of their final group game. They finished second, entering the knockout stages as an unseeded team. They could have faced the English duo of Manchester United and Arsenal, or the prospect of a team with the quality and prestige of Ajax or Inter Milan.
Instead, they’ve been matched up against SC Braga, who were undefeated in Group K. Braga handed Wolves their only loss in the group stage, so Rangers will be up against it. Then again, it could have been worse, with their opponents currently ninth in the Primeira Liga.
Neither Rangers or Celtic managed to win their final game on the way to qualification from the groups. This means that Scotland are currently 16th in the UEFA Country Rankings, and only the top 15 will be guaranteed two Champions League places for 2021/22.
Cyprus are 15th, although they only have one team left in the competition. This means that a couple of wins would be enough of a boost for Scotland’s coefficient to ensure two teams will be able to qualify for the biggest tournament in club football. (Both Croatia and the Czech Republic were also in with a shot of breaking the last 15, but neither have a side left in Europe after the groups).
Scotland has had only one Champions League entrant since the 2013/14 season, and the move would certainly boost the coffers of the top two. Reaching the group stages was worth £13m this season, while even a final play-off round loss was worth £4.5m.
It could be down to Celtic alone, although they haven’t progressed past the Round of 32 since the Europa League was known as the UEFA Cup. In the event that they both progress, they’ll be able to face each other, as teams from the same nation are blocked until reaching the last 16.
In any case, this season has been a good one for Scotland’s coefficient so far. A Champions League run would further strengthen both teams, giving them a better chance of competing as they have in the past. But can they bridge the gap next season?
Champions League pretensions
The Champions League is where Rangers and Celtic feel they should be, with the latter having famous nights under the floodlights against the likes of Barcelona in years gone by. It’s also easy to forget that Rangers were the last Scottish club to reach a European final since losing out to Zenit Saint Petersburg in 2008.
To that end, two Scottish clubs back in the mix is undoubtedly positive; but is it really a progression from the natural status quo of the past? There’s a duopoly once more, although the two sides are likely to push each other further as they battle for bragging rights at domestic level.
The Hoops are clearly the stronger of the two for now, even if Rangers are slowly bridging the gap. They’re both being managed effectively, as the acquisition of Steven Gerrard seems to have been a canny one, while Neil Lennon knows Celtic like the back of his hand.
There are only two points currently separating the two in the Scottish Premiership, and they’ve already opened up a healthy nine-point lead on Aberdeen in third. They also have two games in hand due to cup commitments, so it would take a disaster to see them falling away at this stage.
The Old Firm have done their part in Europe already, and they’re likely to get the results needed to secure Champions League football for both teams over the next few years. It’s a great foundation for further success, although we’re likely to see a similar model to that of the past.
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