It would be perverse not to see the timing of Celtic’s trip to Copenhagen for their Europa League last 32 tie this week as a gift. It could be no other way when Ståle Solbakken’s side emerged from a two-month winter shut-down only on Friday. The fact Copenhagen’s first competitive game since mid-December ended in a single goal loss away to Esbjerg will hardly engender great confidence in the Danish camp about their prospects when hosting Neil Lennon’s men in the last 32 first leg on Thursday.
The other evening, and in their earlier Atlantic Cup tournament matches contested by clubs looking to regain sharpness on the back of an extended turn-of-the-year closedown, suggest scoring goals is becoming an issue for a club that have now only one netted in their past four outings.
Under the stewardship of a Solbakken now in the seventh season of a second spell in charge, the club have never been freescoring even as they have claimed their domestic title in three of the past four years.
However, injuries that threaten the participation of attacking midfielder Viktor Fischer, the Danish international recognised as the club’s pre-eminent performer, and his fellow countryman Jens Stage for the visit of Celtic could rob them of two performers central to offering them balance. They also have doubts over Icelandic defender Ragnar Sigurdsson, while are already without injured squad men Jonas Wind, Nicolai Boilesen and Robert Mudrazija.
Copenhagen have only once gone deeper into European competition than the last 32 Europa League stage that will pit them against Scottish champions they last faced in continental competition across the Champions League group stage of 2006-7. Then Gordon Strachan’s men progressed to the last 16, but did so on the back of a 3-1 loss in Denmark.
In 2016-17, Copenhagen made it to the last 16 of the Europa League, where they were narrowly beaten by Ajax. Since then they have had creditable showings in three further Europa League group campaigns, only losing out on first place in their section at the end of last year with a 1-0 loss at home to arch-rivals Malmo. It will not have gone unnoticed by Lennon’s dossier-compilers for a tie Celtic must feel they can be optimistic over that Solbakken’s men made it through at the expense of Dynamo Kyiv.
The Celtic manager does appreciate the possibilities to catch cold this week a Copenhagen side trailing by four points in their domestic championship to leaders FC Midtjylland – the team Rangers racked up seven goals against across two comfortable wins to see them off in the third round of the Europa League qualifying phase last August.
“We can try [to catch Copenhagen cold] but whether we do is another thing,” said the Celtic manager. “We played Zenit when they were in the same boat [two years ago] and they were a strong team too. So we won’t take anything for granted. We’ll be as strong as we can against them.
“We’ve had Copenhagen watched. They were on their winter break but had a tournament out there. It will be nice to get back into Europe again, although we’ve been enjoying the domestic stuff. There’s a momentum there and a quiet confidence about us.
“We’ll have a full report that we’ll start on from tomorrow and get stuck into it. You can’t look too far ahead at the moment when we have so many games. The domestic games have been the priority – Aberdeen will be a tough away match. So we’re not getting carried away. There will be peaks and troughs along the way. All our focus is on Aberdeen for now.”