It can’t get any better than last time, can it? Whatever happens when Celtic travel to Portugal to face Benfica in their penultimate match of a tight Champions League group, it just will not match the incredible scenes at Celtic Park two weeks ago.
You could have got 9/1 on the Bhoys beating Barcelona in Glasgow and even at those odds, there were few takers. Yet it did actually happen, even if it all seemed too good to be true.
Restricting the mighty Barca to few clear-cut chances and playing adventurously on the break, Celtic managed to secure one of the most famous victories in their recent history – some are even calling it one of their greatest ever – to show that there is life after Rangers after all.
How good the win was is open to debate (and there will no doubt be debate in the pubs of Glasgow for years to come) but what is for sure is that the victory was of vital importance in the context of Celtic’s Champions League campaign this season and Neil Lennon’s policy of prioritising European competition ahead of domestic duties, for now at least, seems to be paying off.
|UEFA Europa League - Group D|
This has been a different Celtic to the one we have seen in recent years in Europe. More street-wise, tactically astute and even in the face of the type of pressure they were subjected to against Barcelona, defensively sound and composed.
The upshot is that Lennon now has a great chance of reaching the last 16 and getting out of a group that looked, when the draw was initially confirmed, too difficult a task for his side.
Celtic are currently second in Group G on seven points, two behind Barcelona but, crucially, three ahead of Tuesday’s opponents and the message from Lennon before they go up against Benfica is going to be clear: avoid defeat and with Spartak Moscow to come at home in the last match, we are almost there.
But that is easier said than done away at the Stadium of Light, where Benfica have such a good home record, and I have a feeling that the win against Barcelona is not going to be followed up with a similar result.
The Portuguese side are 21/50 favourites to win the match and join Celtic on seven points, while the draw is 18/5 and the away win is priced up at 23/4.
Still, the Bhoys will be confident of getting something – and not just because of the Barcelona result.
Away from home, Celtic have been a completely different proposition than we’ve come to expect. For so long absolutely useless whenever they left Scotland to travel the continent, they have picked up three wins (including the qualifiers) and were desperately unlucky to lose in the Camp Nou to Barca, who scored an injury-time winner.
But this is a difficult match for Celtic. Jorge Jesus’ side are unbeaten domestically and sit level on points with Porto at the top of the Portuguese Liga Zon Sagres, and I think this match could see Lennon’s side revert to type away in Europe.
The Portuguese side have only conceded six goals in nine league matches and have kept five clean sheets as their defensive work matches their attacking prowess (they have scored 23 league goals already).
Benfica have been just as mean in defence in all competitions: Jesus’ team have kept seven clean sheets in their last eight matches, which includes a routine 2-0 win over Spartak in their last Champions League match. They look like they are in the groove and are more than capable of seeing Celtic off without too many scares.
Lennon will go for a draw, that much is obvious, but it is asking a lot to keep Benfica out for 90 minutes at the Stadium of Light – only Barcelona and Chelsea have managed to do that in the last 70 matches – and I think this could be the match where Celtic fail to score on the road.
In the five previous meetings between the sides since 2006, the away team has never scored a goal and that trend looks set to continue, making the 27/20 on a Benfica win and clean sheet a fine bet.