SPL

6 Signings To Boost Celtic’s Europa League Hopes

 • by Frank Smith
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Despite some disappointing defeats to Paris Saint-Germain and Anderlecht, Celtic managed to seal third place in their Champions League group. This was the objective that was set out at the start of the campaign, guaranteeing them a place in the Europa League.

Next year, Brendan Rodgers and his side will need to be on their best form to advance into the latter stages of the continent’s secondary club competition, having been drawn against Roberto Mancini’s expensively assembled Zenit Saint-Petersburg in the round of 32.

To get beyond the Russian giants and into the last 16, Celtic could do with help in the January transfer window. Here, we look into six potential targets that could assist them in their quest for European glory.

AHMAD BENALI

Last season, Pescara sunk from Serie A without trace, though this was not down to any lack of productivity on Benali’s part. The Libyan scored six goals and set up a further two, shining thanks to his lustrous dribbling and movement behind the frontline.

Displaying loyalty, the former Manchester City youth academy graduate stayed with the club and has remained a key player in their current Serie B campaign. With four goals and two assists, he has averaged an impressive 0.62 goal involvements per 90 minutes.

With his intelligence between the lines and outstanding technique, Benali has all the attributes to excel in Celtic’s attacking midfield area. Linking up with Callum McGregor, Stuart Armstrong and James Forrest, he could bring an extra injection of class in and around the final third.

VALTER BIRSA

At 31 years of age, Birsa may not stand out as an immediate target for a forward-thinking club like Celtic. However, given the consistent quality of his performances for Chievo in Serie A over recent years, he is worthy of a place on this list.

He plays for one of the less fashionable teams in Italy’s top flight, but don’t hold that against him. The Slovenian has regularly been one of the more efficient technicians outside of the traditional big guns and his ability to open up defences would prove valuable to the Scottish champions.

This season he has averaged 1.9 key passes and 1.1 dribbles per game. In both statistical categories he is the highest hitter for Chievo. Ľubomír Moravčík was well into his 30s by the time he joined Celtic and he went on to become a legend; Birsa could follow a similar path.

JOHN MCGINN

Hibernian have caused no end of problems for Celtic in the Scottish Premiership this term. Both at home and away, the Edinburgh side – led by former Bhoys boss Neil Lennon – have picked up 2-2 draws against the reigning champions.

McGinn has been fundamental to everything good about Hibs’ play, leading to further rumours of a move to Glasgow someday soon. And Scottish pundit Michael Stewart believes the deal could happen, saying: “I think…that type of deal has a good probability of happening – it would be appealing to Hibs.”

A fee of around £2.5million, potentially with a player moving in the other direction, may be enough for Celtic to secure an energetic young midfielder to offer much-needed physicality, industry and dynamism in central midfield.

AHMED MUSA

Signed by then-reigning English champions Leicester City for what was then a club record fee of just under £17million last summer, it’s fair to say things haven’t worked out as planned in the Premier League for Musa.

The winger, who excelled for Nigeria at the 2014 World Cup and gained plaudits during his time in Russia with CSKA Moscow, hasn’t made one single league appearance this term after a deeply underwhelming maiden campaign in the Midlands.

There are reports that Musa could be on his way in January, and Celtic would be wise to swoop, possibly with a six-month loan deal.

If the player could recapture the blistering speed and drive that once made the top clubs in Europe sit up and take notice, he’d be a real asset to their Europa League campaign.

JOHN SOUTTAR

Souttar has been highly regarded in Scotland for quite some time and, while he lacks the top-level experience and reputation that some of the other players on this list possess, he has the traits necessary to bolster Celtic’s back line.

Firstly, he’s only 21 years of age, meaning he has plenty of potential left to fulfil. Secondly, and most importantly, he has a playmaking ability that would be maximised by Rodgers.

His manager at Hearts, Craig Levein, commented on this, saying: “His range of passing and his striking of the ball [is] exceptional. He’s got everything that’s needed and I think he’ll get tougher as he gets older and learns the position.”

FRANCESCO VICARI

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Since being promoted to Italian football’s top tier in the summer, SPAL have been surprisingly competitive. This has been largely down to a relatively solid defence built around 23-year-old Vicari.

During pre-season, the promising central defender was linked persistently with West Ham United. However, the English Premier League side were firmly rebuffed by the Serie A newcomers, who insisted the player was simply too important to their survival hopes.

Vicari’s importance hasn’t decreased in recent weeks, but his contract is up in 2019. And, if SPAL hope to avoid losing him on a free, they may be more open to offers soon.

He’d bring a strong presence to the Celtic back four, while at the same time bringing the refined touch and passing range Rodgers requires – only eight defenders in Serie A have a higher pass accuracy than his 89 per cent.

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