Europa League Tips: Celtic to beat an out of practice Prague

Rangers travel to Benfica before Celtic host Sparta Prague in Glasgow. Betfair's Frankie Monkhouse expects a successful outing for the Scottish sides...

Groups taking shape

Thursday brings the halfway point of the Europa League group stages as the pools begin to take shape. Both Scottish representatives are in action as Rangers travel to Benfica with the sides level at the top of Group D before Celtic host Sparta Prague in Glasgow.

Gers take a 100% record to Portugal having won their first two games, keeping a clean sheet in each. That sturdy defence will be tested to breaking point by a Benfica attack who have found the net seven times. Celtic and Prague are yet to win a game and are in real danger of dropping out of contention for a top-two finish.

Benfica vs Rangers
Thursday, 17:55
Live on BT Sport

Benfica entered their group campaign as betting favourites to progress as winners of the pool and they have made the perfect start, taking six points from their first two games. The Eagles have scored seven goals and conceded just two, placing them ahead of Rangers in pole position on goal difference. A home win would put them firmly in the driving seat.

Jorge Jesus led his men to a comfortable 3-0 win over Standard Liege at Estádio da Luz last week but suffered what was their first defeat of the Portuguese Primeira Liga season on Monday at Boavista. That 3-0 loss means Benfica are a point behind leaders Sporting Lisbon having won five and lost one game. Everyone in the home dressing room will be eager to make a quickfire return to winning ways.

Gers on top

Having battled their way through the qualifiers before beating Galatasaray in the Europa League playoffs at Ibrox Gers are making waves in this competition under Steven Gerrard. Dropping into a competitive looking Group D the team from Govan opened with a stunning 2-0 away win over Standard Liege before edging out Lech Poznan in Glasgow by a 1-0 score. Star striker Alfredo Morelos climbed off the bench to bullet a header into the net and send his side joint-top of the set.

Rangers have been just as impressive domestically and lead the Scottish Premiership, enjoying a nine-point advantage over Celtic in second. The Bhoys have two games in hand over their Old Firm rivals but Gers supporters know it's better to have points on the board than games to play. They opened November with a 1-0 win over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, captain James Tavernier slotting home a penalty to secure all three points.

Defence key to success

Benfica got off to the strong start that was expected of them, but they now face an ambitious opponent that has already proven their worth in this competition. The hosts lost last time out and if they aren't at their best against Rangers they could lose again. Benfica are 1.99 favourites to win with Rangers 4.2The draw appeals at 3.65.

Key to success for Rangers will be that organised defence that hasn't conceded a goal in six games, a run stretching back to that 2-1 win over Galatasaray on the first day of October. Under 2.5 goals in this game is 1.96 with over the same mark 1.85.

Celtic vs Sparta Prague
Thursday, 20:00
Live on BT Sport

Celtic head into Thursday's home match against Sparta Prague with one point claimed from the first six available to them. The Scottish champions were beaten 3-1 by Italian Serie A side AC Milan on matchday one before claiming a 2-2 draw at Lille last week. Celts blew a two-goal lead in that match, but manager Neil Lennon took a lot of positives from the performance.

Domestically, Celtic sit second in the Scottish Premiership having failed to win three of their first 11 games. They were beaten at home by Rangers last month before stumbling to a 3-3 draw against Aberdeen at Pittodrie. The hosts bounced back to beat the Dons 2-0 on Sunday in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup.

Prague out of practice

Sparta Prague sit bottom of Group H without a point on the board following a pair of hurtful defeats in their opening two games at this level. Prague opened with a confidence-crushing 4-1 loss when hosting Lille before going down 3-0 in Milan last time. One goal scored and seven conceded will be music to the ears of the Celtic attack.

The visitors make this journey out of practice with football postponed in the Czech Republic since early October due to tight coronavirus restrictions in the country. That has made life difficult for Iron Sparta and they have appeared off the pace and lacking match practice, something that has been exposed by Lille and Milan already.

Bhoys to take advantage

Celtic take confidence from the way they started against Lille but know they must make full use of the home advantage in this match. Sparta Prague have lost their last two and have looked off the pace in both games. If the hosts are at their best, they should have enough to bank all three points. Celtic are 1.48 favourites on the Betfair Exchange with Sparta Prague 7 and the draw 5.

The fact Prague have already conceded seven goals in their two group matches and Celtic have scored three suggests over 2.5 goals in this game at 1.6 is a bet worth having. Under 2.5 is currently trading at 2.32.

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