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Pellegrini has sights on Celtic scalp

Manuel Pellegrini insists he is "not overly concerned" by the battle for first place in Group E – he has his eyes on a different prize, hoping his Villarreal CF side can join an exclusive club and defeat Celtic FC on home soil.

Manuel Pellegrini hopes his Villarreal side can emulate Barcelona
Manuel Pellegrini hopes his Villarreal side can emulate Barcelona ©Getty Images

Villarreal CF coach Manuel Pellegrini insists he is "not overly concerned" by the battle for first place in Group E. He does, however, believe his side can become only the second club to defeat Celtic FC on home soil at this stage of the UEFA Champions League.

Exclusive distinction
FC Barcelona, who eased to a 3-1 triumph at Celtic Park in the 2004/05 campaign, currently hold the distinction of being the only team to beat the Bhoys on home turf in the group phase. Yet Villarreal have shown in recent seasons that they too are a force to be reckoned with in continental competition, and Pellegrini is confident his players can strengthen that reputation against a Celtic side who have failed to register a win in Europe this term.

Mission accomplished
"In terms of finishing first in the section, I'm not overly concerned about that," he said. "We have qualified for the last 16 and, in doing so, achieved our main goal. So I'm not thinking about beating Manchester United [FC] to first place, just about playing a match against Celtic in their fantastic stadium – that is our motivation. It appears to be difficult to win here, but every game is different and, hopefully, we can do just that."

With Javi Venta, Robert Pirès and the Spanish club's top scorer in the competition this season, Joseba Llorente, all injured and left-back Joan Capdevila suspended after his sending-off against United on Matchday 5, Pellegrini will be forced to shuffle his pack again. The 55-year-old Chilean refused to give any hint as to which of his fringe players will be given their chance, but conceded there "will definitely be changes" to the team that came from three goals down to earn a point at home to Getafe CF on Saturday.

Journey over
For Celtic manager Gordon Strachan, meanwhile, little more than pride rests on his side's final Group E outing. Their UEFA Champions League journey had an abrupt end two weeks ago when Aalborg BK inflicted a 2-1 defeat on the Scottish champions in Denmark. Strachan still harbours dreams of what might have been, but at present his focus is on concluding the campaign on a high, especially in the wake of the team's 2-0 weekend defeat at Hibernian FC.

Salvage operation
"It's a strange feeling because on a good night things could have been very different," he said. "We had the chances to win both matches against Aalborg. And, against Manchester United, we were six minutes away from taking all three points – although they played some wonderful football in the second half. That's behind us now, but it doesn't mean we won't be giving 100 per cent for the win. The players we have here are a proud bunch and we want to give the fans something to smile about."

Added pressure
Those, however, are not the only pressures weighing down on the hosts, who are without key personnel in Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Barry Robson due to injury. Because, if Celtic are unable to beat Villarreal on Wednesday, this will be the first season in which Scottish sides have failed to record a victory in European club competition.