After strong showings in the first leg of the playoff round, both Lyon and Arsenal are in a comfortable position to enter the group stage. Lyon can claim a tenth consecutive group-stage appearance unless they completely fall apart. The French club overwhelmed RSC Anderlecht 5-1 last week, while a 2-0 deficit would appear insurmountable for Celtic FC as they travel to London to take on Arsenal.
Celtic have to overcome a Gunners side in top form if they are to progress – they must win away in Europe for only the second time in 24 matches. Celtic have fought back from a home defeat once already in this season’s qualifiers, beating Dinamo Moscow 2-0 in Moscow on goals from Scott McDonald and Georgios Samaras to make overturn a 1-0 first-leg loss in Glasgow. It was Celtic’s first away win in Europe in 23 matches. A win for Arsenal will mean a 12th successive appearance in the UEFA Champions League. On current form, I simply cannot see Arsenal losing 3-0 at home to Celtic
Despite their gutsy performance, Panathinaikos find themselves needing to make history on two fronts to book a place in the group stage of the Champions League. Beyond needing to win on Spanish soil for the first time in their history, they must also mount a first successful comeback from an opening home loss in Europe competition. On the five previous occasions Panathinaikos have entered a return fixture after a defeat in Athens, they have go on to lose the tie. Atletico are sitting in a good spot having scored 3 away goals in the opening leg with strikes from Maxi Rodríguez, Diego Forlán and Sergio Agüero.
I think there is simply too much stacked against the Greek side and that we’ll see Atletico celebrating a return to the group stage. Henk ten Cate, the Panathinaikos manager, admitted to uefa.com that he felt some of his players would be affected psychologically by the fires in Athens. The club doctors told the team to refrain from training because the smoke in the air could have been hazardous for the players. I certainly feel for the players and their families and I hope the wildfires are brought under control.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the losers in this playoff round as they will continue their European campaigns in the UEFA Europa League group stage.