Scottish Premiership sides Celtic & Rangers are back in Europa League action this week as we enter game four. Betfair's Frankie Monkhouse takes a closer look...
"Gerrard’s sure to set-up defensively again, putting his trust in the back-four and asking his midfield to help at both ends of the pitch. It’s an approach that has served them well on the road already"
Moscow missing a couple of star men
We're into the second half of the Europa League group stages and just three points separate Spartak Moscow in fourth and pool G leaders Rangers going into this contest. The Russians are without a win from their first three outings but did claim a vital away draw at Ibrox last time and aim to finish the job by inflicting Steven Gerrard's first tournament defeat. A 2-0 reverse at Rapid Vienna, followed by draws with Villarreal and Gers suggests The People's Team are moving in the right direction.
If they are to bank their first maximum of the competition they'll have to do it without a couple of star names, Brazilian international Fernando and top scorer Ze Luis crocked and set to miss the return leg. Both sat out a Russian Premier League draw with Rubin Kazan recently and it's unlikely their return to fitness will be risked in a Europa League tie, especially with the club toiling domestically.
Rangers struggling to create chances
It's all getting very real for Steven Gerrard in Govan and fans of the Scottish Premiership side have accepted the honeymoon period is well and truly over. The blues were knocked out of the League Cup by Aberdeen at the semi-final stage, despite travelling to Hampden as strong favourites and with the backing of a huge support. They huffed and puffed their way through the 90 minutes, failing to create clear-cut chances and, as often happens in football, their opponents needed just one to make them pay.
Everyone connected to Ibrox expected a response against Kilmarnock three days later, but they didn't get it. Steve Clarke's men followed the Dons' blueprint, sitting deep, inviting their opponents to break them down, all the time waiting patiently on a chance to punish on the counter. Alfredo Morelos had his employers ahead on nine minutes, but that advantage was short-lived, cut out by Greg Stewart.
Gerrard hoping to return the favour
Rangers were left frustrated by the negative tactics of Moscow, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock, but they'll be more than happy if they can return the favour at the Otkritie Arena. This will be the club's second trip to Russia in this competition, having secured a 1-1 draw vs FC Ufa during the qualifiers. Gerrard's sure to set-up defensively again, putting his trust in the back-four and asking his midfield to help at both ends of the pitch. It's an approach that has served them well on the road already.
The goal-fest we saw at Villarreal is unlikely and under 2.5 goals in the match looks worth a place in your midweek accumulators at 9/10 (Betfair Sportsbook). The draw appeals, the Exchange handing out a decent [3.5] and that's our best bet of the contest. Those preferring to take sides will get [3.6] Rangers, [2.2] the hosts.
Must win match for Celtic
Celtic enjoy home advantage over Bundesliga side RB Leipzig but it's a match they simply have to win if they are to stand any chance of breaking the Red Bull dominance and sneaking through to the knockout phase. The Bhoys suffered a 2-0 defeat in Germany last time, moving their form in this competition to win-lose-lose. They sit third in the pile as a result, six points off the pace set by Salzburg and three behind their opponents.
Brendan Rodgers' team have been seen improving domestically, however, and go into this make-or-break match with confidence returning to the ranks. They hammered Hearts at Murrayfield to reach the final of the League Cup - keeping alive dreams of a treble-treble - before battering Dundee 5-0 at Dens Park to go second in the Premiership. Eight goals scored in three days, that gives an idea of the feeling in the camp.
Win would put Leipzig through
RB Leipzig were far from perfect when beating Celtic in front of their own fans on October 25, but they banked the points and now look to be one win away from qualifying. If they can get that victory in Glasgow it'll move them six clear of their opponents with six points to play for. It won't be easy, of course, but visiting manager Ralf Rangnick saw enough in that round three win to ensure they arrive in Glasgow in high spirits.
He fielded what appeared to be his second-string at home and it'll be interesting to see if he continues with that, leaving a few first team regulars back at base, allowing them time to rest ahead of what will be a crucial winter programme in the German top-flight. The Bulls lost only one of their 10 league starts and have hopes of securing a top-four finish.
Defensive frailties can't be ignored
Prioritising the league over this competition is a popular choice with managers but if Leipzig send a weakened side to Scotland they will be punished. Celtic know the value of three points at this stage, but Rodgers is also well aware of the dangers that would accompany being knocked out of the Europa League before Christmas. That'll ensure an entertaining match at Parkhead.
There's no doubt The Hoops are good enough to exact revenge on their own patch, but their defensive frailties can't be ignored and they proved costly again in Germany. With that in mind, both teams to score is worth having at 13/20 - another for your multiples - while over 2.5 goals is a handy 3/4. Punters hot on the home win will find Celtic marked as [3.9] outsiders, Leipzig [2.0], the draw [3.75].