Celtic welcome AZ Alkmaar to Celtic Park in the first leg of their 2021-22 UEFA Europa League Play-Off tie.
Ange Postecoglou’s Hoops qualified for this stage after thrashing Jablonec 7-2 on aggregate in the Third Qualifying Round, whereas AZ Alkmaar begin their Europa campaign here after qualifying for this stage through their league position in Eredivisie last season.
Celtic have no fresh injury concerns with a near full squad in contention for selection, except for Christopher Jullien who is still absent with a knee injury suffered in late December 2020.
AZ will be without Jesper Karlsson through suspension after the striker was red carded at Rijeka in December 2020, as both teams exited Group F last season.
Owen Wijndal also misses out as the left-back is ruled out with a groin injury.
- This is Celtic’s first-ever meeting against AZ Alkmaar in all competitions.
- Celtic are unbeaten in four of six previous home matches against Dutch opposition in all European competitions (W3, D1, L2).
- AZ Alkmaar won their only previous home clash against Scottish opposition, defeating Rangers 1-0 in Group F of 2004-05 UEFA Cup.
- James Forrest netted for Celtic in both legs against Jablonec in the last round, with both goals coming after half-time.
- AZ have lost three of their last five Europa League away matches (W2, L3).
Having endured a shaky start to competitive life at Celtic Park, Postecoglou has got his Hoops firing in recent matches with expansive attacking football which has enabled Kyogo Furuhashi to flourish since his arrival, whilst several players look re-energised after a largely lethargic campaign last season,
AZ Alkmaar therefore will have to be at their best defensively if they’re to enter their home leg next week scrapping for overall victory, but this Dutch team too like to play attacking football so tactics will certainly be key as to the outcome of this match.
On that note, I am expecting a tough yet scrappy contest packed with plenty of attacking chances at both ends, although if Celtic score first then I can see them cracking on to try and kill this tie off ahead of the return leg next week despite their defensive issues.
Prediction: Celtic 2-1 AZ Alkmaar
Result: Celtic 2-0 AZ Alkmaar