The Europa League begins its next round in a few days, so we will be highlighting the matchups featuring either clubs with a chance to win it all or match-ups that could see either team pull out a victory and move on to the Round of 16.
While Europa League is not packed with the big names of the Champions League, there are still some high quality clubs playing for the title, and with it, an automatic berth in the Group Stage of next season’s Champions League.
How They Got Here
Celtic qualified for European competition by winning the Scottish Premiership last season, advancing to the first qualifying round of the Champions League after leading the league for 36 of the 38 weeks. It defeated Alashkert from Armenia in the First Qualifying Round, winning 6-0 on aggregate, then defeated Norway’s Rosenborg in the Second Qualifying Round. It’s Champions League came to an end in the Third Qualifying Round in a loss to AEK Athens, and Celtic moved to the Europa League play-off round.
After a defeat of Lithuanian club Sūduva, they advanced to the Group Stage, where they were drawn into Group B with Red Bull Salzburg, RB Leipzig, and Rosenborg, and they finished second behind the undefeated Red Bull Salzburg to advance to the Round of 32 as an unseeded club.
Valencia is in the Round of 32 by virtue of their third-place finish in Group H of the Champions League. They qualified for the Champions League group stage by finishing in 4th place in La Liga last season, and a loss on Matchday 5 to Juventus all but assured them of a transfer to Europa League.
Celtic currently leads the Scottish Premiership by six points over rival Rangers. Another league championship would be Celtic’s eighth consecutive league title (and 50th overall), and would result in a return trip to Champions League next season. Should they somehow miss out on the league title, they are still alive in the Scottish Cup, which would place them in the first qualifying round of next season’s Europa League.
Valencia has struggled a bit in La Liga this season, and they currently find themselves in 8th place, six points behind Sevilla for 4th and qualification in next season’s Champions League, though they have been as low as 17th this season. They are also alive in the Copa del Rey, the Spanish Cup competition that sees its winner placed in the Europa League group stage next season, so if they can manage to win that tournament – they have to defeat Real Betis and one of Real Madrid or Barcelona to do so.
Never Tell Me the Odds
Valencia is a heavy favorite in this matchup (73% chance of advancing per FiveThirtyEight), and they are also favored fairly heavily to win the entire thing (8%, tied with Sevilla for 4th-best odds). That means Celtic would have to overcome fairly long odds to win this matchup and advance, so I imagine the supporters will be out in force on Thursday to try and push the club to a strong performance at home.
Valencia has not been unbeatable at home across all competitions this season; they are only 3-7-1 at home in league play, and lost a match to Juventus during the group stage of Champions League. Celtic hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire away from Glasgow, at least in European competition (losses at RB Salzburg and RB Leipzig), so it will be interesting to see if they can do well enough in the home leg to increase their odds going into the second leg next week.
As stated, Valencia is the heavy favorite, and I don’t expect the results to be any different in this matchup. However, one of the reasons I enjoy Europa League so much is that clubs like Celtic can often get a little further than they would in Champions League; unfortunately, the Scottish club is facing off against a club from perhaps the best league in the world. It’s one thing to test your mettle against Rangers three times a season; it’s quite another to play Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. Still, we’ll keep an eye on Thursday’s match to see if Celtic has a chance of making it to the Round of 16.
Until next time…