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Champions League & Europa updates

Celtic are progressing nicely towards the group stages of the Champions League again with dreams of more glorious nights on the European stage, although it is hard to imagine anything matching that fantastic night in Glasgow last November when Neil Lennon’s Bhoys humbled the mighty Barcelona.

They should have little trouble completing the job against Cliftonville after their first leg 3-0 win in Northern Ireland and they will also fancy their chances of overcoming their next likely opponents, Elfsborg, although the Swedish champions are likely to provide a much sterner test.

Coral go 250/1 a Celtic fairytale – Champions League winners 47 years after they became the first British team to win the European Cup – with Bayern Munich 3/1 favourites to defend their title in front of Barcelona at 7/2 and Real Madrid at 5/1.

Then come Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea all at 12/1. Coral are going 9/4 each of the three big English clubs for next season’s Premiership and they can’t separate them in the Champions League betting either.

There’s uncertainty surrounding Barcelona at the moment, of course, with the Nou Camp hierarchy looking for a new manager following the news that Tito Villanova had stepped down due to serious health problems. Premier League bosses, Andre Villas-Boas and Michael Laudrup, were among the names quickly put up for the job by the Press and Roberto Mancini has also been mooted as a possible replacement after losing his job at Man City.

But South American coach, Gerardo Martino, and former Girona boss, Joan Francesc Ferrer (otherwise known as Rubi), who recently joined the Barcelona backroom staff, would seem to be the two leading candidates. An announcement is expected sooner rather than later.

It would be no huge surprise if Laudrup, who won nine trophies in five years with Barcelona as a player, were to get the nod, but meanwhile he has a job guiding Swansea through the preliminary stages of the Europa League. Swansea are embarking on the first European campaign for 22 years and are 66/1 with Coral to go all the way after drawing either Hibs or Malmo in the third qualifying stage.

Wigan, who, as F.A. Cup winners, enter the competition at the group stage, are 100/1 with Spurs considered by far the most likely of our teams to follow up Chelsea’s triumph last May.

Coral make them 14/1 favourites to bring the trophy to White Hart Lane, but of course it is a long and arduous road to the final in Turin next summer with very good teams like Valencia (16/1) and Italian outfits Fiorentina and Lazio (both 20/1) among those standing in their way

Written by Jon Freeman