It’s always a worry when a team decides to leave out their talisman for a European away trip, but not even the absence of goal machine Antonio di Natale will put me off the 11/5 that Udinese make their extra class count when they visit Celtic on Thursday.
Celtic, a terribly short 5/4 to register a home win, are only in the Europa League group stages by default and boast none of the quality of the Martin O’Neill/Gordon Strachan era, when European giants were regularly put to the sword in front of hostile and vociferous crowds at Celtic Park.
These days, clubs like FC Sion can comfortably beat Celtic over two legs – albeit with the aid of an ineligible player that resulted in the Swiss side being thrown out of the competition to the benefit of the Bhoys.
The state of the Scottish Premier League is often the butt of jokes south of the border, but the truth remains that the league is desperately low on quality (as Rangers’ short-lived European adventure also proves) and at the prices available, Udinese, currently unbeaten in second position in Serie A, have to be the call.
It is a slight concern that Di Natale hasn’t travelled due to ‘tiredness’, while there are injury doubts over fellow strikers Paulo Barreto and Antonio Floro Flores, but Celtic are also missing players through injury and are even resting captain Scott Brown ahead of Sunday’s trip to Hearts.
That should tell you everything about manager Neil Lennon’s priorities and with Celtic already seven points behind Rangers in the SPL, it is no wonder the air of indifference about this competition from the Hoops’ camp is so tangible.
Udinese will take the Europa League seriously and are superior in nearly every department to their hosts, and I’ve just got to hope they don’t slip into stereotypical Italian mode and view an away draw as a decent result.
That eventuality is priced at 11/5, but for those fearful of that scenario (and every manager would be happy with four points from two group stage matches) you can back Udinese in the draw no bet market at 5/4 – a nicely priced safety blanket.
The Serie A side are unbeaten away from home this season, conceding just one goal in three games, and with their main man sat with his feet up back in Italy, a low-scoring encounter is well possible.
Under 2.5 goals is priced at 18/25, but the 3/1 for Udinese to win in a match that has less than 3.5 goals looks like a good way to eek a bit more value of out what should be a routine away win.
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