Boasting a healthy 2-0 lead from the first leg at Parkhead, Celtic make the journey to AZ Alkmaar for the second leg of their Europa League playoff tie on Thursday night.
Kyogo Furuhashi’s strike and an own goal from Timo Letschert put Celtic in the driving seat last week, and the Eredivisie outfit are struggling to find inspiration from anywhere at the minute.
Opening their 2021-22 league season with a 1-0 defeat to RKC Waalwijk did not exactly spell success for AZ ahead of their Europa League trip to Celtic, although the Dutch outfit nearly drew first blood had it not been for the outstretched boot of Joe Hart to keep out Vangelis Pavlidis.
Soon after, Furuhashi would make no mistake at the back stick as he connected with Tom Rogic’s cross to fire the opener into the roof of the net, and the Japanese attacker would then proceed to pick out James Forrest inside the area, whose effort took a significant deflection off Letschert into the back of the net.
AZ had their moments at Celtic Park but now have it all to do on their own soil in the second leg, and with the hosts winless and goalless in their first two matches of the campaign, morale is hardly at an all-time high.
Pascal Jansen’s side have plied their trade in the group stages of the Europa League for the past two seasons, and the safety net of the Europa Conference League is ready and waiting for AZ, who have the unenviable task of trying to stop Ange Postecoglou’s free-flowing Celtic machine once again.
While Furuhashi’s enjoyable start to life in Celtic colours has now been overshadowed by instances of racist abuse, Postecoglou’s protege is loving life on the field, as is the rest of the Bhoys’ motivated crop during a stellar period of wins.
Postecoglou faced numerous challenges and confidence-depleting results early on in his Celtic career, but he has now overseen six successive victories in all competitions, and his side are firmly set on wrestling the Premiership crown off of Rangers’ hands as they dazzle and delight on the attacking front.
Being able to boast 24 goals in their six-game winning run – a remarkable average of four per game – is some feat for Celtic, and they warmed up for the second leg with a comprehensive 6-0 thrashing of St Mirren, during which David Turnbull bagged a hat-trick while Liel Abada (two) and Odsonne Edouard also got in on the act.
However, five of Celtic’s victories in their six-game green streak have come at home – with their only away success in that run being a 4-2 victory over Jablonec in the earlier rounds of Europa League qualifying – but barring a second-leg disaster, a fifth Europa League group-stage appearance in succession is surely on the cards.
AZ Alkmaar Europa League form:
AZ Alkmaar form (all competitions):
Celtic Europa League form:
Celtic form (all competitions):
We say: AZ Alkmaar 1-2 Celtic (Celtic win 4-1 on aggregate)
Celtic have no need to sit back and hold what they have this week, with their attacking capabilities and AZ’s poor start to the season there to be taken advantage of.
The hosts were made to pay for their profligacy in the first leg but will feel confident about their chances of finding the back of the net here, although Postecoglou’s in-form Celtic should have no problem marching on to the group stage.