Celtic in decent European group draw shocker! There is a lot to like about this season’s Champions League group stage draw. Celtic fans don’t get to see our team tested against the reigning European champions often. We knew we were going to face an almost impossible task against one opponent, so bring on the champions!
Real put seven goals past Shakhtar Donetsk over two games in last season’s group stage. More on the Ukrainian champions later. The Spanish champions also beat Inter home and away, although shared away wins with Sheriff. 15 points in the group stage is impressive, but it wasn’t until they reached the knockout rounds that their season took off.
You know the legendary story………. First they eliminated French champions PSG, then reigning European champions, Chelsea, before beating English champions, Manchester City. Despite this, they were second favourites in the final, but Liverpool went the way of the rest. There has never been a more difficult run to a successful European Cup.
Leipzig finished third behind Celtic and Salzburg in the Europa League group stage four years ago. Conceding a classic late goal to Rosenborg allowed Celtic to secure second spot, despite losing at home on the night to Salzburg.
Our German opponents finished fourth in the Bundesliga last season, behind Leverkusen. We should have taken something from the game away at Leverkusen but were somewhat humiliated by them in Glasgow. In last season’s group stage, Leipzig beat Manchester City, took a point off PSG and thumped Brugge 0-5 away. They beat Real Sociedad in their first Europa League knockout round, dumped Atalanta in the next, but ran out of road at Ibrox in the semi-final.
Newco made Leipzig look ordinary in that game – so there is some hope, but I am reluctant to read too much into that. We will need to be at our most effective best in both games.
Ukrainian league football resumed on Tuesday for the first time since the Russian invasion in February. Games will be played behind closed doors at a number of venues in the west of the country. Shakhtar Donetsk drew their fixture 0-0. They will play their Champions League home games in Poland. Fiorentina, Benfica, Lazio, Lille, Salzburg, Bordeaux and Fulham all took players from Shakhtar this summer, hollowing out their squad.
What of other Ukrainian sides this season? In CL qualifying, Dinamo Kyiv overcame Fenerbace and Sturm Graz before losing 5-0 on aggregate to Benfica. Fenerbace are no mugs and reached the Europa group stage courtesy of a 6-1 aggregate win over Austrian Vienna. Other Ukrainian sides lost out to Cypriot, Swedish and Romanian opposition. Unsurprisingly
What we have in this draw is an opportunity to test the value we have in our squad and manager. We drew Leipzig, when Liverpool, Barcelona, Atletico, Chelsea and Juventus were in the same pot! We drew Shakhtar instead of Inter, Dortmund, Leverkusen or Benfica.
In short, if we are the team some of us hope we are, we will compete for second place. If we achieve that, we will have earned close to an additional €20m between prize and progression payments, on top of the circa €35m from getting to this stage and ticket sales.
Welcome back to the big time!
Oh, and welcome to Celtic, Sead Haksabanovic. More on you soon.