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Nov 26, 2015 at 8.05pm UK at Celtic Park
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Preview: Celtic vs. Ajax

Sports Mole previews the crucial Europa League Group A match between Celtic and Ajax at Parkhead.

Celtic will go head to head with Ajax in a must-win Europa League game at Parkhead on Thursday night as they fight for second spot in Group A.

The result could also have a bearing on the future of Celtic manager Ronny Deila as the loser from the match will be knocked out of the tournament should Fenerbahce beat Molde, who are already through to the round of 32.


Celtic manager Ronny Deila looks on during the UEFA Champions League Qualifying play off first leg match, between Celtic FC and Malmo FF at Celtic Park on August 19, 2015© Getty Images

Celtic supporters are used to watching their team on European nights among the elite in the Champions League, but in the last couple of seasons, the club have failed to qualify for the group stages.

Therefore, the Scottish giants have been playing in the Europa League, but this campaign under Deila has been less than fruitful as the club are in danger of failing to reach the round of 32.

The Bhoys have not won any of their four games in the group, recording two draws and two defeats, the latest of which came in the form of a 2-1 loss to Molde, who have already qualified for the next phase of the competition.

Deila may have overseen just one defeat in 15 Scottish Premiership games this season, but there are still question marks as the team were frustrated in a goalless draw against Kilmarnock at the weekend.

The Norwegian manager has put a lot of emphasis on playing the 'Celtic way' - an entertaining style of football, but it has resulted in the team's defence struggling as they have conceded 11 goals in the league and nine in four Europa League games.

This Thursday's opponents will provide a tough test for Celtic as they managed to come from behind twice to seal a 1-1 draw on matchday one in Amsterdam.

Nir Bitton opened the scoring for Celtic, but Viktor Fischer responded in the 24th minute to draw level before Mikael Lustig sent the Bhoys into the half-time break with a 2-1 lead.

Ajax's Lasse Schone administered the blow to Celtic when he scored in the 84th minute to earn a point, while Emilio Izaguirre never finished the game as he was sent off.

The Europa League has not been a happy competition for Celtic in recent seasons as they have not managed to claim a win in nine consecutive matches.

Recent form: DDLL
Recent form (all competitions): WWWLWD


Ajax Amsterdam head coach Frank de Boer attends a press conference after the training session in Amsterdam, on April 11, 2014© Getty Images

Frank de Boer's side sit one point above bottom-placed Celtic in Group A, so have a better chance of snatching the second qualification spot, but they will need to gain all three points at Parkhead in order to help their chances.

The campaign so far has not been what they desired as they have failed to earn a victory in the group after progressing via the qualifiers following a two-legged tie against FK Baumit Jablonec.

It was a positive start for Ajax as they fought back to claim a point from their opening group match against Celtic, and they had a similar result when they came from behind to snatch a 1-1 draw away to Molde.

However, since then, the Dutch team have lost 1-0 to Fenerbahce and failed to strike in a stalemate at home to the Turkish club.

The statistics are not great reading for Ajax as they have not won in five continental away matches having drawn three and lost two, but they have progressed into the round of 32 in all three of their previous campaigns in the UEFA Cup and Europa League.

Another positive note for Ajax is that they are flying high in the Eredivisie as they currently sit at the top of the league table and are unbeaten in their last five games.

Recent form: WDDDLD
Recent form (all competitions): WLWDDW

Team News

Scott Brown of Celtic FC looks on during the UEFA Champions League, Group H match between FC Barcelona and Celtic FC at the Camp Nou Stadium on December 11, 2013© Getty Images

Celtic captain Scott Brown has been ruled out of Thursday's fixture as he faces a possible three-month layoff with a knee injury.

The 30-year-old midfielder, who has played for the Scottish team for eight years, missed four matches before returning to the weekend's lineup against Kilmarnock.

However, the skipper has been dealt a blow, while Kris Commons will also miss the match as he deals with illness and a muscle injury.

Carlton Cole's fitness is not believed to be up to scratch as yet after joining the club on a free transfer, so the striker is likely to sit this game out, meaning that Leigh Griffiths will lead the line once again.

Jozo Simunovic is likely to remain at the back in a bid to stop the defence from leaking goals, while Izaguirre, who was sent off last time out against Ajax, should start the game.

Meanwhile, De Boer could select Amin Younes, Arkadiusz Milik and Fischer, who scored in the Amsterdam fixture, to form an attacking trio at Parkhead.

Celtic possible starting lineup:
Gordon; Lustig, Boyata, Simunovic, Izaguirre; Allan, McGregor; Forrest, Rogic, Armstrong; Griffiths

Ajax possible starting lineup:
Cillessen; Tete, Veltman, Riedewald, Dijks; Klaassen, Gudelj, Serero; Younes, Milik, Fischer

Head To Head

The two sides have played one another nine times in three different competitions - the European Champions Clubs' Cup, the Champions League and Europa League.

Prior to September's 2-2 draw in Amsterdam, the last time that the two clubs met was in 2013 when they gained a win apiece in the group stage of the campaign.

Ajax earned a 1-0 win on home turf, while Celtic claimed a 2-1 triumph in Glasgow, but overall, the Scottish club edge the head-to-head record with four wins compared to the Dutch club's three.

Four of the nine matches played have ended in draws, while both sides have scored 12 goals each during their meetings.

Sports Mole Logo

We say: Celtic 1-2 Ajax

Thursday's match could spell the end of Celtic's Europa League campaign as Ajax have the quality to upset the Scottish side at Parkhead. It has not been happening for Deila in Europe this season, and the team are allowing too many goals to get shipped past them. The crowd will be up for the encounter, but if Deila is not prepared to change tactics in order to get the best result, then a defeat could be on the cards.

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Omar El Kaddouri and Lorenzo Insigne of Napoli celebrate a goal 1-0 scored by Omar El Kaddouri during the UEFA Europa League Group D match between SSC Napoli and FC Midtjylland at Stadio San Paolo on November 5, 2015 in Naples, Italy.
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Today's Olympic highlights header

Sunday's key events

· The men's golf reaches its conclusion, with plenty of players still in medal contention. Home favourite Hideki Matsuyama is one shot off Xander Schauffele's lead, while Great Britain's Paul Casey is another shot further back and Tommy Fleetwood is also in the mix (11.30pm-8am)

· Great Britain have already made history in the BMX events in Tokyo, something Charlotte Worthington and Declan Brooks will be looking to add to in the women's (2.10am) and men's (3.10am) freestyle finals

· The final day of swimming action begins with the men's 50m freestyle final. Ben Proud could add to a medal-laden Games in the pool for Team GB so far, although he is up against USA's Caeleb Dressel, who is going for his fourth gold in Tokyo (2.30am)
· From sprint to endurance, Great Britain's second medal hope of the day comes through Daniel Jervis in the men's 1500m freestyle final (2.44am)
· Team GB will again be among the heavy favourites for gold in the last swimming event of the Games - the men's 4x100m medley relay final - having won the mixed event in a world record time on Saturday (3.36am)

· Already guaranteed at least a bronze, Pat McCormack takes part in the men's welterweight semi-final against Ireland's Aidan Walsh with a spot in the gold medal final at stake (4.03am)
· Ben Whittaker is also in the semi-finals of the men's light heavyweight and will be looking to continue Team GB's success in the ring (4.51am)

· There will be a surprise on the top of the men's tennis podium after Novak Djokovic missed out on a medal altogether. Alexander Zverev takes on Karen Khachanov in the second match on Centre Court at the Ariake Tennis Park (7am-2pm)

· Alison Young will be going for gold in the women's laser radial medal race (7.33am)

· Team GB's Max Whitlock will look to defend his 2016 Olympic title in the men's pommel horse final (10.41am)

· The men's high jump final includes GB's Tom Gale, although his chances of a medal look bleak (11.10am)
· So often the blue-riband event of the Olympics, the men's 100m final takes place as the world's fastest bid to be crowned Usain Bolt's successor. Three Brits have made it into the semi-finals (11.15am-11.32am), and the final looks wide open after an underwhelming display by favourite Trayvon Bromell on Saturday (1.50pm)

· Great Britain face India in the men's quarter-final (1pm)

> Today's schedule in full
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Scottish Premiership
Pre-Season Friendlies
Portuguese Super Cup
Taca da Liga
Scottish Championship
Scottish League One
Scottish League Two
Belgian Pro League
Swiss Super League
Russian Premier League
Ukrainian Premier League
Swedish Allsvenskan
Danish Superliga
Finnish Veikkausliiga
League of Ireland Premier
Belarusian Premier League
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