When our group was drawn for the Europa League, there were many raised eyebrows. Some of us were quick to point out that we had no fewer than three domestic champions in the same group – something only one Champions League group could boast to match, and no other Europa League group could claim.
Others, however, looked at the teams we had and wondered how on Earth it was fair that we had not one but two teams owned by Red Bull.
“What happens when they play each other?”
Well when the two teams met on match day one in Germany, Red Bull Salzburg came out on top, beating RB Leipzig 3-2. A great away win, and one that was followed up with three more by Salzburg. A 100% record sees them top of the group with twelve points, six ahead of both RB Leipzig and Celtic who have managed to beat each other and also beat Rosenborg.
Those who would defend the setup have been quick to point out that only Salzburg are actually owned by Red Bull. The RB in RB Leipzig does not stand for Red Bull, but actually stands for RasenBallsport.
We’ll just ignore the obvious trademark charging bulls they have for a badge. And the fact they’re sponsored by Red Bull. As is their stadium. And the fact that their management board comprises entirely of employees or agents of Red Bull.
Anyway, the two teams meet again this evening. Salzburg need just a point to be sure of topping this group, but even a narrow defeat wouldn’t be too much of an issue for them given they would have a better head to head over Leipzig should finish level on points. Leipzig, on the other hand, know that they need to match the number of points that Celtic get to ensure they stay ahead of us given they have the better head to head in our games.
We’re away to Rosenborg, the newly crowned champions of Norway for the fourth year running. This coming weekend, Rosenborg are playing Stromgodset in the Norwegian Cup final, and so they’ll be pretty focused on that given they are all but out of Europe this season. With no points from their first four games, they need to somehow beat Celtic and Leipzig and hope that Salzburg do them two favours, and even then they need to have decent results to top the mini league that would result in.
Rosenborg know they’re out, and so they are pretty intent on making a few changes today ahead of that cup final. Great news for us? Perhaps, but some players might just see this game as a chance to play their way into the manager’s thoughts for the weekend.
We’ve already been to Trondheim this season, in the second leg of our second qualifying round in the Champions League. Defending a 3-1 home win from the first leg, we put in a professional if uninspiring job to get a 0-0 draw and carry on through to the third qualifying round where we ultimately lost out to AEK Athens.
Last season, our trip to Trondheim was far more pivotal. Having drawn the home leg 0-0 in the third qualifying round of the Champions League, it was James Forrest who scored the only goal of the tie over there to take us through to face Astana in the playoff round.
We have, of course, faced Rosenborg in a group stage match previously too. Back in 2001, Martin O’Neill’s Celtic travelled to Trondheim hoping to pick up a result that might help see us through a tricky group. But what happened next was an old friend came back to haunt us.
Rosenborg won 2-0 that night, with Harald getting both goals having returned to his homeland after a couple of seasons with Celtic. It’s okay Harald, we still remember you far more for stopping the ten than for the night you came back to haunt us!
For Celtic to have a realistic chance of progressing into the latter stages of the Europa League, we simply have to win against Rosenborg tonight. Everyone else has done so, and we might just get lucky with them fielding a weakened side. If we’re really lucky, Salzburg will get the point they need to secure top spot tonight as we beat Rosenborg and we’ll go into the final hoping that Salzburg too opt to field a weakened team at Celtic Park.
But somehow I doubt that’s going to happen. If you think I’m being paranoid about this potential stitch up from Red Bull, go look at the bookies and see what they think. Despite Salzburg’s 100% record, despite them having already beaten Leipzig in Germany, the Germans are favourites to win the game.
That says it all for me. Even the bookies smell a rat in this group.
However, there is nothing we can do about what goes on over there. Tonight’s job is to beat Rosenborg and then see where we are after that. We might find that we need to thump Salzburg to get through, I really don’t know. But if we can’t even beat Rosenborg, then all the Red Bull in the world won’t be giving us wings to fly out of this group.
Unfortunately for us, unlike Rosenborg, we don’t have the luxury to rest players for our upcoming final. Options have been returning in the likes of Olivier Ntcham and Leigh Griffiths, while there’s been doubts over Tom Rogic and it still seems too soon for Scott Brown. But players like Ryan Christie and James Forrest have been stepping up, and hopefully they can be joined for others continuing to improve like Scott Sinclair.
Hopefully Filip Benkovic and Dedryck Boyata can stay fit and have a quiet night. Whether they’ll be getting battered by Nicklas Bendtner remains to be seen. Despite him being convicted of assaulting a taxi driver in his native Denmark, his sentence is still to be carried out and you rather suspect the authorities in Denmark are being lenient and allowing him to finish his season with Rosenborg before taking up residence in his home with an electronic tag for 50 days.
Our away record hasn’t been great in Europe for a good while, but we have picked up important wins against teams like Anderlecht and of course Rosenborg. So we know we’re capable of it. Tonight we really have to show it and give ourselves something to play for at Celtic Park in two weeks time.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)