STV Sport sponsored by Papa Johns

What Celtic and Rangers can expect from their Europa League opponents

Lyon and Real Betis provide a tough start to the group stage for Scotland’s representatives.

What Celtic and Rangers can expect from their Europa League opponents SNS Group

The qualifiers are over and the Europa League begins in earnest on Thursday with Scotland’s best hoping to make their mark in the competition.

Rangers begin their group stage campaign by welcoming Lyon and their array of stars to Ibrox, while Celtic are back in Seville for the first time since the 2003 UEFA Cup final to take on Real Betis.

The Glasgow sides are aiming to get off to the best possible start in challenging groups.

Rangers v Lyon

For Rangers, the campaign begins against the top seeds and Lyon arrive in Glasgow with a bit of momentum.

The side who finished fourth in the league last season, only seven points off champions Lille, had two draws and a loss from their opening games, but found their stride with a 1-0 victory away at Nantes and followed that up with a 3-1 home win over Strasbourg.

Peter Bosz was manager of Bayer Leverkusen when they knocked Rangers out of the comeptition. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

It’s been far from the ideal build-up for new manager Peter Bosz. The Dutchman, a self-confessed devotee of Johan Cruyff’s attacking style, arrived at the end of last season after two years at Bayer Leverkusen (where he led the team to two wins over Rangers) and has seen changes in his squad this summer.

Star man Memphis Depay left for Barcelona, but Xherdan Shaqiri joined in August from Liverpool and Euro 2020 winner Emerson made a loan switch from Chelsea. Experienced defender Jerome Boateng was a deadline day signing and Bosz had quality additions to blend into his squad to prepare for domestic and European challenges.

Mounting problems for French giants

Boateng has yet to make his debut, though, and last week was found guilty of assaulting his ex-girlfriend and ordered to pay a £1.5m fine. Shaqiri has only one game under his belt so far as he adjusts to his new surroundings.

Bosz will have found his pre-match planning difficult as uncertainty over the availability of Brazil internationals Bruno Guimaraes and Lucas Paqueta and Zimbabwean striker Tino Kadewere was only resolved on Tuesday evening when the trio were cleared to play.

But Lyon travelled to Glasgow without striker Moussa Dembele, with the former Celtic striker injured and unable to remind Rangers of his goalmouth threat.

Whichever side the Dutch manager puts out will pose problems and the team has a strong record in this stage of the competition.

Lyon suffered only one defeat across the last three times they played Europa League group stage football. In the last two seasons they’ve played in the group stages in the Champions League and only saw two defeats across those 12 games.

Rangers have their own record to uphold, though, unbeaten in their last ten group stage games and with Steven Gerrard wanting to continue a fine record in continental football as he tackles his 50th European match as manager.

Bruno Guimaraes has been cleared to face Rangers. (Photo by SNS Group)SNS Group

Real Betis v Celtic

For Celtic, the trip to play Betis has a bit of romance to it as the club make a return to Seville almost two decades after playing the UEFA Cup final there.

While memories of that European adventure are revisited, Ange Postecoglou and his players will be looking to take a huge step by getting off to a winning start.

They’ll be up against a Betis side that’s had an uneven start to the season. After finishing sixth last year to qualify for Europe, Manuel Pellegrini’s side have points on the board in La Liga but haven’t started motoring yet.

Two 1-1 draws against Mallorca and Cadiz were followed by a 1-0 home defeat to Real Madrid before the international break. Monday night brought a 2-1 away win at Granada, though Pellegrini afterwards shared his unhappiness at playing a league fixture just three days before a Europa League match.

Touch of quality

Betis have quality throughout their side, with new signing Hector Bellerin strengthening the defence and the likes of William Carvalho and Sergio Canales in midfield. Borja Iglesias is a proven goalscorer up front but is yet to open his account this season.

Former Barcelona defender Marc Bartra has been ruled out but Victor Ruiz and German Pezzella can pose a formidable obstacle to Celtic’s attack.

The Spanish side are third seeds in Group G but though they don’t always qualify for Europe, they have a history of going on a run when they are in continental competition.

With Beyer Leverkusen, Celtic and Betis all holding serious ambitions to top the group, the opening encounter in Seville could go a long way to deciding how the final table looks.