Bayer Leverkusen will be looking to secure all three points and qualify for the last 32 of the Europa League when they host Celtic in their penultimate Group G encounter on Thursday evening.
The Hoops, meanwhile, could move into the top two with a victory at the BayArena, if Real Betis were to drop points against Ferencvaros.
After a difficult spell of five games without a win across all competitions, Bayer Leverkusen have since claimed two victories and a draw from their next three matches, which has provided a much-needed boost for Gerardo Seoane‘s men.
An impressive 4-0 win against Real Betis in their most recent Europa League game was followed by a 1-1 draw with Hertha Berlin and a narrow 1-0 victory at home against VfL Bochum last weekend.
The Eternal Bridesmaids currently sit fourth in the Bundesliga, and are also leading the way in Group G, sitting three points clear of Betis with two fixtures remaining.
Leverkusen have enjoyed their Europa League campaign so far, accumulating 10 points from a possible 12 available and scoring 11 goals in the process, which can only be bettered by Lyon in this year’s competition.
Four of those goals were scored at Parkhead in September, as Seoane’s side cruised to a 4-0 victory against Celtic in their first ever meeting against the Scottish giants.
Leverkusen head into Thursday’s game unbeaten in their last 14 Europa League group-stage matches at home, and a victory at the BayArena would see them qualify for the last 32 as Group G winners.
Celtic extended their unbeaten run across all competitions to nine matches when they beat St Johnstone 1-0 in the Scottish League Cup semi-finals last weekend.
A 73rd-minute strike from James Forrest booked their place in the final for the sixth time in eight years, where they will face Hibernian at Hampden Park on December 19.
Ange Postecoglou‘s men now turn their attention to Thursday’s crucial Europa League clash with Leverkusen, a match they cannot afford to lose if Real Betis beat Ferencvaros.
The Hoops, however, travel to the BayArena having lost six of their last seven UEFA Cup or Europa League away games in Germany – their most recent was a 2-0 loss to RB Leipzig in October 2018.
After losing their opening two Europa League matches this term, conceding four goals against both Betis and Leverkusen, Celtic have since secured maximum points in home and away fixtures against Ferencvaros, which has boosted their chances of securing a top-two place in Group G.
The Hoops currently sit third in the group, just one point behind Betis, but a victory in midweek would ensure they are at least still fighting for last-32 qualification in their final match against the Spanish side next month.
Bayer Leverkusen Europa League form:
Bayer Leverkusen form (all competitions):
Celtic Europa League form:
Celtic form (all competitions):
Bayer Leverkusen will be without Patrick Schick (ankle), Charles Aranguiz (calf), Mitchel Bakker (ankle), Julian Baumgartlinger (knee) and Timothy Fosu-Mensah (knee) due to injury, while Lucas Alario and Karim Bellarabi are both doubtful.
Midfielder Kerem Demirbay will serve a one-match suspension following his red card against Betis last time out, so Exequiel Palacios is set to be handed a start alongside Robert Andrich.
Former Celtic right-back Jeremie Frimpong is expected to start in the back four alongside Jonathan Tah, Edmond Tapsoba and Piero Hincapie, while teenage starlet Florian Wirtz will likely operate in the number 10 role behind forward Amine Adli.
As for Celtic, Christopher Jullien (knee), Carl Starfelt (hamstring), Tom Rogic (hamstring), Greg Taylor (shoulder) and Karamoko Dembele (ankle) all remain sidelined with injuries.
Tottenham Hotspur loanee Cameron Carter-Vickers is one booking away from a suspension, but he is expected to start alongside Stephen Welsh at centre-back, shielding goalkeeper Joe Hart.
After scoring at the weekend, Forrest will be hoping to force his way into the first XI ahead of either Liel Abada or Jota, while Kyogo Furuhashi is set to lead the line as the central striker.
Bayer Leverkusen possible starting lineup:
Hradecky; Frimpong, Tah, Tapsoba, Hincapie; Diaby, Andrich, Palacios, Amiri; Wirtz; Adli
Celtic possible starting lineup:
Hart; Ralston, Welsh, Carter-Vickers, Juranovic; Bitton, McGregor, Turnbull; Forrest, Furuhashi, Jota
We say: Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Celtic
Celtic were well beaten against Leverkusen in September, but with the hosts to be without a few key players on Thursday, a closer affair could be on the cards this time around.
Nevertheless, the Germans will be the favourites for this contest and still have enough quality in their squad to secure all three points at the BayArena.
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Source: | This article originally belongs to Sportsmole.co.uk