Lennon eyes Euro gains as odyssey begins in Madrid
NEIL LENNON is determined to make the most of Celtic's Europa League reprieve when his side face Atletico Madrid on Thursday night.
Barring an incredible U-turn by UEFA at Sion's appeal tomorrow, Celtic will be back in Europe less than a month after crashing out in a 3-1 defeat against the Swiss Cup holders.
European night's make a welcome return to Celtic Park this season but a visit to Madrid isn't the ideal preparation for Sunday's Old Firm clash at Ibrox.
Lennon (below) will use his squad over the two matches but knows the hardcore of players that he has to get the most out of if Celtic are to survive two demanding tests.
"It's a tough group and it's a huge step up in quality," the Celtic boss admitted as he prepares to face up to Udinese and Rennes after the Atletico clash.
"At home in particular, in the European games, we should be able to give teams a real game.
"Atletico are a quality side and have spent decent money on top players. It's a game that should whet the appetite of our lads. I will look to Brown, Kayal, Hooper, Wilson, Mulgrew and Ki. I think Ki could really make a name for himself in these games.
"They've been pretty consistent and there is a good core. I don't think they will let the occasion get to them and who knows where it could take them? We'll have our main players back, but then I said that before the return game with Sion, although I never envisaged going a man down after 40 seconds!
"That knocked our preparations but I still felt we were coming on strong and it was just a basic error that cost us the game in the end. Looking at our players now, I think there will be a hunger about them.
"The psychological aspect of the game is that we're going in as underdogs so the pressure won't be on them as much, and they can just go out and express themselves."
Celtic warmed up for Thursday's task with an impressive 4-0 win over Motherwell on Saturday. No one will be foolish enough to compare Motherwell with Atletico but the Spanish side have yet to score in two La Liga outings after going down 1-0 to Valencia on Saturday night.
Star striker Radamel Falcao failed to score on his debut after his €40m transfer from Porto but has fond memories of the competition after scoring the winning goal against Braga in the final of last season's tournament at the Aviva Stadium.
Celtic will be without the suspended Daniel Majstorovic, with loan signing Badr El Kaddouri unavailable after playing in a Champions League qualifier for Dynamo Kiev.