With one final hurdle to clear in the Europa League qualifying rounds, Celtic welcome Dutch outfit AZ Alkmaar to Parkhead for the first leg of their playoff tie on Wednesday night.
Ange Postecoglou’s men eased past Jablonec 7-2 on aggregate to reach the playoff round, while AZ qualified for this stage courtesy of their third-placed finish in the 2020-21 Eredivisie season.
After a testing few weeks in which hardly anything could go right for Postecoglou, the new Celtic boss has seen his fortunes dramatically improve over the past few weeks, with the Bhoys heading into Wednesday’s first leg on a four-game winning streak in all tournaments.
After Midtjylland crushed their Champions League dreams early doors, Celtic dusted themselves down for a Europa League third-round tie with Jablonec, and Postecoglou’s men marched to a 4-2 victory in the Czech Republic before a 3-0 success on home soil.
A 6-0 thrashing of Dundee in Scottish Premiership action was sandwiched in between those ties, and Celtic also advanced to the quarter-finals of the Scottish League Cup over the weekend with a thrilling 3-2 success over Hearts as Odsonne Edouard, Kyogo Furuhashi and Stephen Welsh made the net ripple.
With a dismal start to his competitive reign firmly consigned to history, Postecoglou has his sights firmly set on a fifth consecutive Europa League group-stage appearance for Celtic, who last suffered defeat at this stage of Europe’s secondary tournament all the way back in 2011.
Having held down third spot in the Eredivisie table for the final months of the 2020-21 season, AZ Alkmaar missed out on Champions League qualification by a whisker and are now vying for a third consecutive group-stage appearance in the Europa League.
Pascal Jansen’s side enjoyed a solid pre-season campaign with victories over OFI, Real Sociedad and Torino, but their Eredivisie season kicked off in disappointing fashion on Saturday, as RKC Waalwijk frontman Michiel Kramer struck the only goal of the game for his side on the stroke of half time.
If a lack of competitive action was one thing, kicking off the 2021-22 season scoreless, pointless and winless is hardly a recipe for success either, but AZ can take solace in the fact that they have never been knocked out at this stage of the Europa League when they have progressed this far previously.
Both clubs do have the safety net of the Europa Conference League should they fail to produce the goods over the next week, and Wednesday’s game marks the first-ever meeting between the two sides in competitive action, with AZ’s only other clash against Scottish opposition seeing them claim a 1-0 win over Rangers in the 2004-05 UEFA Cup.
Celtic Europa League form:
Celtic form (all competitions):
AZ Alkmaar form (all competitions):
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