Sky Sports pundit Charlie Nicholas has backed Celtic to beat CFR Cluj 2-1 when the two sides meet in the Europa League on Thursday and spoke of revenge after the Romanian side eliminated the Hoops from the Champions League in the third qualifying round.
Cluj were lauded for embarrassing the Hoops by eliminating the Scottish Premiership side 5-4 on aggregate in August, having taken a 4-3 win at Celtic Park to ensure that Neil Lennon’s men would have the Europa League as part of their calendar this season.
The Stadionul Dr. Constantin Radulescu natives would go on to lose both play-off fixtures with Slavia Prague 1-0 and joined Celtic in the Europa League group stage draw, where they would also be matched alongside Stade Rennais and SS Lazio in Group E.
Dan Petrescu’s side have since been held to a draw by FCSB and beat Gaz Metan Medias 3-0 last time out, while Celtic prepare to host their Romanian opponents carrying wins over Kilmarnock and Partick Thistle and a draw away to Hibernian as their form.
Former Celtic striker Nicholas does not expect to see the Hoops beaten like Lazio were, but has refused to diminish the threat Cluj present.
“Everyone in Glasgow is talking about revenge as Cluj put Celtic out of the Champions League,” Nicholas wrote in his predictions for Sky Sports. “They made it out to be a fluke, but you cannot lose 4-3 and say it is lucky.
“Cluj are a very clever side – they took on Lazio, who are one of the favourites for the Europa League, and reminded everyone of who they are with a smashing 2-1 win. Celtic gained a very good point at Rennes and could have come away with more.
“The crowd at Celtic Park gives the players another five to 10 per cent and that’s what will be the case here. It will not be a rollover, it will be tight, but [I] think Celtic will just edge it – it could be late on when the goals come.”
If Cluj can replicate their display against Lazio, Nicholas has every potential to be right in expecting a close game between his former side and their Romanian opponent.
Petrescu’s men allowed Simone Inzaghi’s outfit to enjoy 65.8% of possession when the two sides met last month, but restricted the Serie A club to five shots on target from 13 efforts – four of which had to be unleashed from outside the box, per WhoScored data.
Cluj were also frantically busy in defence, making 32 tackles, 11 interceptions and 24 clearances, and Celtic can expect a similar backs-to-the-wall display on Thursday night.
Is Neil Lennon capable of Europa League success?
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