Mohamed Elyounoussi has thrived in the Champions League and want to return there with Celtic

Norwegian is aiming to reach group phase again after starring in Basel’s 2018 run

Mohamed Elyounoussi celebrates after scoring the first of his two goals in Celtic's 6-0 rout of KR Reykjavik. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Mohamed Elyounoussi celebrates after scoring the first of his two goals in Celtic's 6-0 rout of KR Reykjavik. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Mohamed Elyounoussi has already shown he can thrive on European football’s biggest stage, having been part of the Basel side which reached the last 16 of the Champions League in 2018.

The Norwegian attacking midfielder helped light up a memorable campaign for Basel with the opening goal in their decisive 2-0 win at Benfica which clinched qualification from the group stage, then scored again in a 2-1 win at Manchester City in the knockout phase.

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Elyounoussi’s form that season earned him his £16 million move to Southampton in the summer of 2018 and while he struggled to live up to that fee in the Premier League, he is going the right way in reviving his reputation while on loan at Celtic.

The 26-year-old’s two goals in a man-of-the-match display as the Scottish champions crushed KR Reykjavik 6-0 in the first qualifying round of the Champions League on Tuesday night underlined his desire to mix it with the European elite once more.

“Our aim is to reach the group stage and play against that level of teams,” said Elyounoussi. “Every player wants to play at the highest level possible and the Champions League is amazing.

“I really want to experience that here with Celtic, hopefully in front of our fans. Those nights at Celtic Park are amazing.

“Right now, we just have to focus on the games we have to get there. It is how it is. It’s going to be a tough game in the next round next week.

“We have a league game at Dundee United before that which is important but we’ll prepare next week for the European game.

“We have players coming into the side now who are doing great so there is tough competition for everyone which is great. That’s healthy.

“But in terms of the Champions League, I know it was also two years ago that Celtic last reached the groups. So it’s a huge goal for us.

“We’re going to do everything to reach our goal. We also have the cups and the league as well. But we have the squad for all those games and the quality too. We believe in our manager and the coaching team.

“We were all focused on Reykjavik. We wanted to play as well as we could, score a lot of goals, get more confidence and keep a clean sheet. So it was a good performance.”

Elyounoussi scored seven times in 20 appearances for Celtic during his initial loan spell last season and is optimistic his first goals of the new campaign are a sign of prolific times ahead.

“Hopefully there is more to come,” he added. “If I want to be critical, I should have scored a hat-trick against Reykjavik but hopefully I’ll do that next time. I’m an offensive player. I like to create chances and score goals so I’m happy to have helped the team win the game on Tuesday night.

“The players know my game now and we try to find each other with quick combinations. We saw that with the first goal when Chris Jullien played me through.

“The last goal too came from an amazing pass from Ollie Ntcham. So the rhythm is there and the flow is there. I just hope we can bring that along for the next games.”

Elyounoussi is looking forward to re-establishing a relationship on the pitch with his former Basel team-mate Albian Ajeti who made his Celtic debut as a second-half substitute against Reykjavik.

The Swiss international striker, signed from West Ham United for £5m, looked off the pace during his 20-minute run-out but Elyounoussi has no doubts about the potential impact of a player he helped sell on the move to Celtic.

“Albian just arrived a few days ago so he will need some time to get fit,” said Elyounoussi. “But he’s a strong player physically as well as a smart player. He is very clever in front of the box. I have had a few assists for him and he’s had a few assists for me when we played together previously. I’m sure when he gets fit and his confidence he will score goals here.

“We know each other well so if we both play we know what to expect from each other. He has tough competition as well in front of the goal – Odsonne Edouard did well on Tuesday and scored a nice goal – so I’m sure we will be seeing both of them.

“Is Albian the type of player who could be top goalscorer in Scotland? Yeah, absolutely. I saw that in Basel when he started to play regularly.

“He got his confidence there and is a good finisher with both feet, as well as headers. So hopefully we will get his confidence back and get him back to where he was when he was with Basel. I mean, it’s the same situation with me. But I’m sure he will be a good addition to the squad. I told him about my experience here. I felt we were in the same situation so I just said it was a great club. Listen, I didn’t need to tell him about Celtic because most people know.

“But I explained the quality we have and the coaching team. I told him what he could expect from us and how it could be good for him to come here and regain his confidence. It’s a good club with amazing fans so I told him he would enjoy it.

“I don’t know what made him decide in the end but I think I helped him make his decision. Look, we just need to give him a little bit of time. He’s been on his holidays so give him a couple of weeks to get some game time and I think as soon as he scores his first goal, he will score a lot of goals here.”

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