Europa League: Celtic size up Ajax, Fenerbahce & Molde

By Jamie LyallBBC Scotland
Celtic's James Forrest celebrates scoring against Ajax
Celtic faced Ajax in 2013

The anguish of the Champions League exit in Malmo remains raw, but Celtic can salvage a morsel of comfort in the form of their Europa League group stage opponents.

Ajax, Fenerbahce and Molde were plucked from Pots 1, 3 and 4 on Friday to make for an enticing array of continental adversaries.

The second-tier tournament may be a distinctly less attractive - and less lucrative - prospect for the Scottish champions and their supporters.

But the visits of Ajax and Fenerbahce in particular should provide Celtic Park with significant opportunities for floodlit frenzy.


Ground: Amsterdam ArenA, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Capacity: 53,500

Head coach: Frank de Boer

Qualification: Eredivisie runners-up

It seems like barely yesterday that Neil Lennon's Champions League Celtic delivered a commanding performance in Glasgow's east end to defeat Ajax 2-1.

Two years on, the sides meet again - this time in less illustrious circumstances.

Ajax forward Arkadiusz Milik
Ajax overcame Jablonec to reach the group stage

A club boasting rich European pedigree and glittering alumni - Johan Cruyff, Edwin van der Sar, Luis Suarez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic among them - Ajax's run of four successive Eredivisie titles was halted last season by PSV Eindhoven.

One half of the former Rangers twins, Frank de Boer, had managed the Dutch heavyweights to a quartet of domestic championships for the first time in the club's history.

Not a bad record for a rookie boss, but finishing 17 points behind rivals PSV last year, and failing to make the Champions League, will rankle.

Ajax scraped by Czech side Jablonec in the Europa League play-off but have won their opening three league fixtures without conceding a goal.

And, under De Boer's shrewd stewardship, the club have, in recent years, castled the likes of AC Milan, Manchester City and Barcelona in Europe.

The 112-cap Dutch international is notoriously structured and regimented in his approach to the game, capitalising on Ajax's famed factory of young footballing talent.

Harnessing home-grown prodigies over buying big from elsewhere is a feature of De Boer's management, with newly-appointed captain Davy Klaassen just 22 but finishing near the top of last season's Eredivisie assists chart.


Ground: Sukru Saracoglu Stadium, Istanbul, Turkey

Capacity: 53,700

Head coach: Vitor Pereira

Qualification: Super Lig runners-up

It seems a touch bizarre to consider a team adorned by former Manchester United pair Robin van Persie and Nani named among the third group seeds - such are the intricacies of European qualification.

Fenerbahce players Nani and Robin van Persie
Like Celtic, Fenerbahce dropped out of the Champions League into the Europa League

Fenerbahce, like Ajax, were runners-up in their domestic standings last season and this will be a maiden fixture between Celtic and a Turkish side in Europe.

The club's recent history is a chequered one, having incurred a two-year European ban in 2013 for involvement in domestic match-fixing.

Eyeing a return to the Champions League, Fenerbahce spent big this summer under new head coach Vitor Pereira, acquiring defender Simon Kjaer, versatile Turk Ozan Tufan and Brazilian midfielder Josef de Souza as well as the former Old Trafford duo.

Defeat by Shakhtar Donetsk consigned the club to the Europa League, however, and the Turkish League alone is unlikely to whet the appetites of the Fenerbahce faithful.

The Turks' attacking prowess is patently evident, but frailties at the back, worsened by knocks to experienced defenders Gokhan Gonul and Bruno Alves, remain a concern.


Ground: Aker Stadion, Molde, Norway

Capacity: 11,800

Head coach: Erling Moe

Qualification: Tippeligaen champions

A return to his native Norway beckons for Ronny Deila and a showdown with the reigning Tippeligaen champions.

Molde players celebrating
Under a new manager, Molde beat Standard Liege in their play-off

With the Norwegian season spanning between March and November, fourth seeded Molde are perhaps the most battle-hardened of Celtic's opponents, although they sit seventh in the domestic standings having won eight of their 20 league fixtures.

Molde knocked out Belgian side Standard Liege to make the group stages, but this is only the second time they reached this benchmark in a European competition since returning from a year in Norway's second-tier in 2007.

Head coach Tor Ole Skullerud took over from the revered and successful Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in January 2014, delivering a league and cup double in his debut season.

However, he has since moved on, with Erling Moe put in interim charge earlier this month.