Celtic’s build up to their opening Europa League group stage fixture against Real Betis this week has been far from smooth.
Firstly, manager Ange Postecoglou was rocked by the news he would be without standout performer Kyogo Furuhashi for a month due to a knee injury before addressing questions behind the sudden departure of chief executive Dominic McKay on Friday night.
On thing is for sure, the Australian head coach will be eager to focus on what his happening on the pitch as the Parkhead club gear up for a busy run of fixtures over the coming weeks.
Any lingering disappointment from their early Champions League exit must be firmly put to bed as they travel to Spain for their opening Group G tie against the La Liga outfit.
The Hoops must focus on the task in hand as they prepare to face a compact side with lofty aspirations of winning this year’s tournament.
Real Betis outlined their European credentials last season by defeating Olympiakos and AC Milan as they progressed out of the group stages before losing out to Rennes over two legs in the last 32.
They possess real firepower and quality going forward with brilliant possession-based statistics. Celtic, however, will look to exploit Manuel Pellegini’s side at the back after former Barcelona centre-half Marc Bartra was ruled out through injury.
With Bayern Leverkusen and Hungarian champions Ferencvaros completing the group, the Hoops face a difficult task to advance but a flying start in Seville could be crucial to their chances of progressing.
Here, we pinpoint five Real Betis players for Celtic to watch out for:
1. SERGIO CANALES – Attacking midfielder
Rated the main dangerman, the Spanish international netted a sublime goal during Monday night’s 2-1 victory over Granada. A technically gifted and versatile midfielder who was overlooked by Real Madrid in his younger days but has since flourished in La Liga. Capable of playing as a No.10, on either wing or in a deeper sitting midfield role, Canales bring pace, experience and a brilliant intercepting rate to the side.
2. NABIL FEKIR – Attacking midfielder
Not many teams in the Europa League can call on a World Cup winner to help aid their cause but Beits have that in the Frenchman. An exceptional technician and highly skilful player, Fekir’s biggest strength is his dribbling ability. With an eye for goal, he is not afraid to try luck his from distance and is a major threat to any opposition box.
3. HECTOR BELLERIN – Defender
A late transfer window signing on a season-long loan from Arsenal, Bellerin will look to make the right-back position his own after playing his first 90 minutes for Betis on Monday night. Blessed with incredible pace and stamina, the Spaniard proved to be somewhat of a influential character both on and off the pitch during his time at the Emirates and Manuel Pellegrini will hope he can bring the same leadership qualities to his Real Betis side this season.
4. WILLIAM CARVALHO – Midfielder
A vastly experienced and powerful defensive midfielder with a brilliant range of passing, it is easy to see why the Portuguese international has been a maintstay in the international set-up since 2013. His physical stature and terrific reading of the game makes Carvalho a force to be reckoned with. He often displays outstanding composure on the ball and is highly regarded for his ability to dispossess opponents and drive at opposition defences.
5. BORJA IGLESIAS – Striker
Betis invested heavily in their lead frontman two years ago after he enjoyed a stellar campaign at Spanish rivals Espanyol scoring 17 goals in 37 appearances. He has since blown hot or cold during his time in Seville but at his most clinical, he is rated one of the best finishers in La Liga. His movement in and around the opposition penalty area is excellent and the 4-2-3-1 formation Betis often play suits his game. His link-up play and physicality could pose Celtic problems.