Former Celtic striker John Hartson has claimed that the Scottish champions can beat Valencia in the last 32 of the Europa League, despite the Spaniards being overwhelming favourites to progress.
Hartson, writing in his Evening Times column, said: “Celtic could have got a lot worse in the Europa League draw. This is a winnable tie. Look, Spanish football is pretty good, I think we can all agree on that. And the club that finished fourth just behind Real Madrid in the previous campaign are no mugs. They were slightly unfortunate to finish third in a Champions League group involving Manchester United and Juventus, so are going to be favourites.”
Valencia are a shadow of their former selves when Hartson played against the La Liga side in 2001, managed by current Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez. The two legged tie ended 1-1 after extra time before Valencia went on to win 5-4 on penalties with Henrik Larsson one of three Celtic players to miss their spotkick!
The former Welsh International added: “Valencia have won just three of 16 of their league games this season. That’s not great. And they’ve drawn 10. They have lost their way a bit. The draw brought back memories of the Celtic team I had just joined when they played Valencia in the third round of the UEFA Cup in 2001.
“They were a great side, managed by Rafa Benitez, full of superb players such as Jon Carew and the excellent Pablo Aimar. We lost 1-0 in the Mestalla, one of the finest stadiums in Europe, a great result and a night when big Rab Douglas had a brilliant game. Back at Celtic Park, some Swedish bloke [Larsson] scored and the tie went to penalties. We lost 5-4. I scored mine!”
Hartson spent five years with Celtic following a £6 million transfer from Coventry City, after rivals Rangers pulled out of signing him following a failed medical. He would go on to score 109 goals in 201 games across all competitions for the Parkhead side, winning three League titles, two Scottish Cups and one League Cup.
The striker played a major role in helping Celtic reach the UEFA Cup Final with his goals against Liverpool and Celta Vigo, but was dealt a blow missing out on the final through injury. Celtic lost 3-2 after extra time to Porto managed by Jose Mourinho – who would go on to win the Champions League the following season.
The first leg of Celtic’s Last 32 tie against Valencia at Celtic Park will be on 14 February, with the return game at the Mestalla Stadium seven days later.
Do you think the tie is winnable for Celtic?