Celtic manager Neil Lennon is hopeful his side can catch Copenhagen cold when their Europa League round of 32 tie comes around. Lennon welcomed the outcome of yesterday’s draw in Nyon following which the Scottish champions will travel to Denmark for the first leg on 20 February before the return fixture at Celtic Park seven days later.
Danish champions Copenhagen completed the first half of their domestic season last night and do not return to competitive action until after their country’s extended winter break.
Their first league match back will be only four days before they face Celtic and believes it could play into his team’s hands.
“It’s a good draw,” said Lennon. “We have avoided the Champions League teams coming down and what you would perceive as bigger clubs.
“But it’s still a team with good European pedigree, whether it be Champions League or Europa League.
“So we will see how we are shaping up when February comes. Copenhagen have their winter break now and it’s quite a prolonged one. So that may work to our advantage or it may go against us, we’ll just need to see nearer the time.
“You are hoping they will be a little bit undercooked but you never know. But I think it’s a decent draw. It could have been better but it could have been worse.”
Copenhagen are currently second in the Danish Superliga table, trailing Midtjylland who were eliminated from the Europa League by Rangers this season.
They lost on penalties to Red Star Belgrade in the third qualifying round of the Champions League, dropping into the Europa League where they finished second in their group behind Malmo.
Copenhagen manager Stale Solbakken is in his second spell in charge of the club, having previously been at the helm when Celtic faced them in the group stage of the Champions League in 2006-07. Lennon played for Celtic in those matches – a 1-0 win in Glasgow before a 3-1 defeat at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen.
“They were good back then,” said Lennon, inset. “We beat them at Celtic Park in a tight game and then went over there when we had already qualified and they beat us. They were good that night, a big strong, powerful and athletic team. It’s a good stadium over there. I wouldn’t say it’s intimidating, or anything like that, but the facilities and pitch are good. Solbakken is a very experienced coach and is a bit of a cult figure there.”
Copenhagen’s biggest threat may come from Cypriot striker Pieros Sotiriou, their top scorer with 11 goals this season, while they also boast recognisable names in former Ajax attacking midfielder Viktor Fischer and his fellow Danish international, Nicklas Bendtner, signed from Celtic’s regular recent foes Rosenborg in the summer. “Bendtner is probably coming to the tail end of his career but he can be a handful for anyone when he is on song,” added Lennon.
“We will study a lot of Copenhagen over the next few weeks. But logistically it’s a good draw. We don’t have to travel that far.
“Hopefully, we will get a foothold in the tie over there before we bring them back here.
“Ultimately, I think it’s psychologically really good to have the second leg at home. We have earned that with topping the group. It’s been a good campaign so far and, hopefully, we can make further inroads.”
Lennon, however, is wary of too many assumptions that Celtic should progress convincingly to the next round.
“You can’t think like that,” he said. “They are a really good side, experienced at European level. So, while it’s a good draw, you can also perceive it as a dangerous one.
“If people do have the idea that we are clear favourites, we have to shy away from that and just go and do a job.”
The prospect of Celtic and Rangers both reaching the last 16, where they could be drawn against each other, prompted a jocular reaction from Lennon.
“It would be carnage,” he laughed. “I think I’d watch the games from Barbados!”
Lennon, meanwhile, was delighted to conclude another piece of squad business yesterday as Nir Bitton signed a new three-and-a-half year contract. Lennon signed the Israeli international from FC Ashdod back in 2013 during his first spell as manager.
“I like Nir a lot and he is coming into his peak years now,” said Lennon. “He knows the club and has been here for a while.
“He has had a few injury problems but when he has played for me since I came back, he has been absolutely excellent.
“The contract gives him that security now and he can really concentrate on his future here.
“He has fulfilled his potential to a point but there is more to come. I think he can take more responsibility at times.
“He is talented and powerful. He’s playing really well after returning from his last injury. I thought he was excellent against Hibs on Sunday. Before the injury, his performances against Stockholm and against Rangers at Ibrox were really, really good.
“He’s good around the club as well, really popular with the boys, so we are very pleased.
“He can play a few roles really well. Ultimately I see him as a midfield player but when he slots in at centre half, it’s seamless for him.”