Who needs the Europa League group stages more: Celtic or Rangers?
Ahead of the action, we've looked at the current state of both clubs and asked the question: who needs it more? In order to help us decide we've broken it down into four sub-questions.
Who needs the money more?
There's absolutely no doubt about this one. Rangers continue to post a shortfall every season which has to be covered by their investors, which they've admitted they can't keep doing forever. Celtic, meanwhile, constantly turn a profit and regularly sell players for over £10 million.
There isn't a whole lot to be earned from the Europa League when you compare it to the Champions League, but it's also not to be sniffed at. Rangers would've earned roughly £6 million from their endeavours in the group stages last term. When you consider that figure is greater than the money they've spent on transfer fees so far this summer, it's obvious that this is a key financial stream in the bid to catch Celtic.
The Parkhead club will not want to go from the potential to earn roughly £30 million from a Champions League group stage spot to exiting Europe altogether, but the sale of Kieran Tierney for £25 million to Arsenal means they can take the hit without any chance of financial trouble appearing on the horizon.
Whose domestic season will it impact less?
While both of these clubs have the strength in depth to handle playing continental and domestic football, there's no doubt that playing Thursday and Sunday every couple of weeks isn't ideal when you're gunning for a league title. Although, interestingly, Celtic dropped more points after Europa League group stage ties last season than their rivals. Brendan Rodgers' side lost to Kilmarnock and Hibs while drawing away at Livingston. Rangers only had one blip, losing 1-0 at home to Aberdeen. It's a surprising stat seeing as Celtic had a stronger squad and could replace quality for quality more frequently than Steven Gerrard's side as they looked to freshen things up.
Be that as it may, Celtic are used to playing European football throughout autumn and into winter, while Rangers have only tasted that once in the best part of a decade.
Both clubs are desperate to lift the league title this season. Celtic want ten-in-a-row and they won't get there without winning their ninth in succession. Rangers would give almost anything to stop them and must understand this is their best chance since moving back into the top flight. Sure, they'd have the chance to stop them again next season, a luxury not afforded to Celtic in their pursuit, but you can never look too far into the future in football.
This is a close one and this writer wouldn't argue with someone saying Rangers, but the edge here goes to their Old Firm foes.
Who needs the reputation boost?
With regards to Scotland and the wider world, Rangers are still on their way back to the standing they enjoyed prior to the financial meltdown of 2012. Playing in the Europa League for the second consecutive season would help them garner more respect and make them a more attractive proposition for incoming players in future.
For Celtic, on the other hand, the Europa League is looked upon as a step down from the level they enjoyed in two of the previous three seasons. They persuade prospective signings on experiencing the famous Champions League nights at Celtic Park, an atmosphere that even some of the greatest players in the game have gushed about. Settling for the secondary tournament is not going to be something which convinces a player to move to the east end of Glasgow who wouldn't have been willing otherwise.
Who needs a place to keep players content?
If Rangers fail in their ambition to get to the Europa League group stages then there will likely be one key player who won't be particularly happy: Alfredo Morelos. The striker has made no secret of the fact that he's got the ambition to play at a higher level and the Europa League represents his best opportunity to catch the eye of clubs who'd be able to pay Rangers' hefty valuation. However, apart from the Colombian, there shouldn't be too many more players angling for a move.
At Celtic, in the two seasons prior to this one where they failed to make the Champions League group stages they then went and sold one of their best players: first Virgil van Dijk and then Moussa Dembele. This pair may have gone regardless, but missing out on games against the elite of world football certainly wouldn't have helped convince them to stick around a while longer.
Failing to even get to the Europa League groups would surely frustrate the likes of Odsonne Edouard, Olivier Ntcham, Kristoffer Ajer and anyone else with aspirations of making it to the top. Interest in such players has circulated this summer and the murmurings will get a lot louder before the end of the transfer window should they collapse against AIK tonight.
As with everything in football, it comes down to the bottom line. Rangers, especially given the recent court ruling in favour of Mike Ashley and Sports Direct, could really use the extra funds from an extended stay in Europe to help the club grow and get closer to Celtic in the long run. Their title challenge could benefit from not having to play six additional high-octane matches between September and December, but even if Europe is sacrificed to stop ten-in-a-row there's no guarantee it'll actually come to fruition, while it would also hamper their chances for the following season. They've made mistakes in the past by focusing too much on catching Celtic and the short term. If they do the right things and continue to rebuild then success will come.