Football Features

Celtic’s best and worst opponents in the Europa League last-32 draw

By Ben Green

Celtic Europa League draw

Published: 17:14, 15 December 2019

Celtic breezed through the Europa League group stages this season and will feel confident going into Monday’s last-32 draw.

The Parkhead club finished first in Group E and entered the final matchweek against CFR Cluj, having already qualified as winners.

Under Neil Lennon this campaign Celtic have been ruthless on the continental stage, comfortably progressing through to the knockout phases despite facing what many believed was a tricky set of opponents a few months ago, with the likes of Lazio and Rennes taking up residence in Group E.  

However, the Glasgow-based club eased their way through the six fixtures and enter Monday afternoon’s draw in Nyon, Switzerland as a seeded club. But, as the rules habitually stipulate, they cannot be drawn against other sides from their own domestic league or a club they faced in the group stages.

As such, Rangers and CFR Cluj will not be drawn against Celtic, but there are 14 other clubs potentially awaiting the Bhoys, including: APOEL, Bayer Leverkusen, Eintracht Frankfurt, Olympiacos, Wolfsburg, Roma, Club Brugge, Getafe, Shakhtar Donetsk, Wolves, AZ Alkmaar, Copenhagen, Ludogorets and Sporting Lisbon.

Naturally, there are some clubs Lennon will be hoping to avoid, while there are perhaps one or two teams he will be crossing his fingers for. So who are they? Well, we’ve analysed both the best and worst case scenarios for Celtic in the last-32 draw.

What’s the best draw Celtic could get in the Europa League last-32?


Best Europa League finish: Last-16 (2016/17)

Current domestic league position: 4th in Cypriot First Division

Head-to-head: N/A

By finishing first Celtic have avoided some of Europe’s biggest clubs in the pots, including Ajax and Inter Milan, but that does not mean their last-32 opponents will simply lie down and let them steamroll past.

Of the potential 14 clubs awaiting Celtic, APOEL could be the one Lennon and Co are banking on, as the Cypriot side progressed through what was a relatively lightweight group in comparison with the other 11.

Thomas Doll’s side finished as runners-up in Group A, but were not presented with too many issues by Qarabag FK and F91 Dudelange, while Sevilla cantered to first place.

It will reflect negatively for APOEL that, despite the fact their group boasted two of the competition’s lowest-ranked clubs, their metrics are exceptionally below-par.

Of all the 48 clubs in the group stages, APOEL registered the third-least number of passes (1945) and fifth-least number of shots (55). With a return like that, you’d be forgiven for thinking they crashed out of the tournament.

They also conceded the second-most number of fouls (102), so the likes of Ryan Christie, Jeremie Frimpong and James Forrest could have a field day drawing penalties, dangerous set-pieces and lulling the Legends – as APOEL are known – into bookable offences.

But, of course football is played on grass and not spreadsheets, so this could still prove a tricky contest for Celtic, but certainly the numbers make for a favourable draw should this scenario come to fruition.

What’s the worst draw Celtic could get in the Europa League last-32?

Bayer Leverkusen

Best Europa League finish: Winners (1987/88)

Current domestic league position: 7th in Bundesliga

Head-to-head: N/A

Even if you finish first in the group stages and enter the draw as a seeded club there is always the possibility of coming up against those who have dropped out of the Champions League, and one daunting proposition this season is Bayer Leverkusen.

The German club have already beaten the likes of Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich this term, making them one of the most threatening sides in the last-32.

Sure, they may sit seventh in the German top-flight at the minute, but Peter Bosz’s side have already proven they can beat any club on their day, while the Dutchman possesses a squad brimming with some of Europe’s most promising players.

In Leon Bailey, Kai Havertz, Nadiem Amiri and Moussa Diaby, the Dutch coach has one of the continent’s most lethal attacking midfields, while further back, the likes of Jonathan Tah and Sven Bender can stifle any opposition frontline.

Die Werkself may not be firing on all cylinders domestically in 2019/20, but as Atleti and Bayern will tell you, if you catch them on a good day, then there are few who can prevent them simply wreaking havoc in the final third.

Certainly, there are some potentially tricky teams lying in wait for the Scottish champions, but if Lennon can avoid a meeting with Leverkusen this early on in the competition, then their chances may grow precipitously.

How to use smarterscout: the new football analytics tool

Sign-up here to use smarterscout lite for free.