SCOTTISH football fixture scheduling has provoked much debate over the years around winter breaks and the number of days off between matches. There can be no doubt that consecutive games shoehorned into truncated time-frames drain already weary legs but the flipside to that scenario can be a hiatus that lasts too long and leaves players rusty and lacking match sharpness.

That second scenario was certainly the hope expressed by Neil Lennon when Celtic were paired with FC Copenhagen in the last-32 of the Europa League prior to Christmas, a top-flight manager finding himself in the rarest of positions by claiming a favourable schedule over forthcoming European opponents.

The Danish Superliga side have been in cold storage since December 16, the day of the last-32 draw, and only returned to action on Friday night when they lost 1-0 to relegation-threatened Esbjerg, producing a performance that lent weight to Lennon’s theory at the time that the extended winter break might work better for his side than Stale Solbakken’s.

Esbjerg missed a penalty and a number of other chances as the Danish champions, shorn of former Ajax pair Nikolai Boilesen and Viktor Fischer who were injured, missed the chance to close the gap on leaders Midtjylland. Celtic, by contrast, are purring, seemingly on their way to a ninth successive title having moved through the gears since their own resumption.

For Sotirios Papagiannopoulos, the Copenhagen centre-back, the winter break has presented his side with a problem ahead of their encounter with the Scottish champions in the Telia Parken on Thursday evening.

“Of course, it is good to relax and recharge the batteries but I don’t think it is a positive thing that we have been off without games in the league or in the Europa League for almost two months,” he says. “But we have had a very good training camp in Portugal and some good training games so I think we will be ready.”

Copenhagen squeezed through to the knockout stage from a group containing Malmo, Dynamo Kiev and Lugano, and will have a number of players missing, the aforementioned Fischer perhaps the most important of those. The Dane has scored five times and created 10 goals for his side this season and was on the scoresheet as an Ajax player when Celtic met them in the group stage of the same competition in 2015.

Despite the absence of Fischer, Papagiannopoulos believes the tie could go either way over two legs and says the squad has enough depth to cover the talismanic midfielder.

“I think we have a very good squad right now with a lot of players that can play different positions. Viktor has been very good for us but I think there are other players that can take the chance now and show that they want to play.

“They are the biggest team in Scotland. They have been a very good team – they have had lots of experience of the Champions League and the Europa League and I think it is going to be a difficult game but I also think it is going to be 50-50. It’s two good teams who are playing each other so you never know. I think we know that we have the chance to go through if we can play two good matches.”

Papagiannopoulos speaks from the experience of having already reached this stage of the competition before. He was part of the Ostersunds team that made the last-32 in 2018, eventually succumbing to Arsenal 4-2 over two legs, despite beating Arsene Wenger’s side 2-1 in London.

He recalls the moment with fondness and says his time with the Swedish club under the coaching team of Graham Potter and Billy Reid, the former Hamilton Academical manager, was his best in football.

“They are two amazing humans. I was there for three years and I had the three best years in my career with Graham and Billy for sure. Both of them are great personalities and we had a successful three years and it was amazing. And, now you can see that they are very good coaches at one of the very best levels right now.

“I think the year we had [reached the Europa League knockout stage] was amazing. We successfully created something that had never happened in the club’s history. Now this is the next level with Copenhagen, we have a lot of good games here in Denmark, we had a full stadium and [in Europe] it has been really nice. And I think these two games in Denmark and in Scotland are going to be something else with everything from the fans.”

Papagiannopoulos says Reid, who has followed Potter from Ostersunds to Brighton via a year at Swansea City gave him the lowdown on Celtic.

“When I was at Ostersund he would joke with me and tell me about the atmosphere in the big games between Celtic and Rangers. We would watch a lot of football together so he would tell me about the rivalry between them.”

The Europa League run has given Papagiannopoulos, of Greek descent but a full Sweden internationalist who has won four caps, the opportunity to put himself in the window ahead of this summer’s Euros.

“Of course, that is my aim,” he says. “I hope I will play well and show that I want to be in [the aquad] and then we will see what happens. There are a lot of good defenders in Sweden’s national team but I think I am one of them.”