DETERMINED Brendan Rodgers insists Celtic “will fight for our lives in the Champions League”.
However, the manager is savvy enough to realise that success in the group stages of Europe’s elite competition may be a step too far for his team at the moment.
European football after the turn of the year is crucial to the Hoops and that could bring the Europa League into the equation.
Last season was a write-off for Ange Postecoglou and his players as they finished rock bottom of their section without a win in six games.
EURO WOE…Ange Postecoglou holds his head in his hands as things go awry in the Champions League.
There were losses home and away to Real Madrid and RB Leipzig and two draws with Shakhtar Donetsk. The Spaniards and Germans qualified for the next stages of the tournament while the Ukrainians took the spot in the second-tier trophy.
Rodgers is looking foward to the money-spinning draw – with Celtic already guaranteed £25million – on August 31 with the first tie due in the midweek of September 19/20.
Th 50-year-old Irishman said: “We are going into the Champions League and our ambition is to qualify out of that group stage. That is a huge challenge, but it’s challenge we will embrace.
“If not, we want to try and ensure we have got European football after Christmas and go as far as we possibly can.
“You have to be realistic. You can be in a Champions League group with some of the richest teams in the world.
“Of course, you want to be competitive and we can bring our A-game. But the reality against some of these teams is if we both bring our A-game, they will win.
THE LAST STAND…Brendan Rodgers watches Celtic lose 2-0 to Valencia at Parkhead in the Europa League on February 14 2019, his final home European tie as manager first time around.
“If you get a bit of luck in the competition, hopefully, we can get out of the group stages.
“That’s what we would love to do, but, ultimately, it’s about trying to get European football after Christmas.
“We will fight for our lives in the Champions League, but obviously the further you go in that tournament, the quality increases and the levels go very high.
“But to be in Europe after Christmas and go as far as possible in whatever competition should be the aim.”
Coincidentally, the Europa League Final is scheduled for May 22 2024 at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, the same venue where the champions will face Wolves in a friendly encounter on Saturday July 29.
The situation was pointed out to the Parkhead gaffer who reponded: “Well, there we go — as if by magic! That would be nice, wouldn’t it?
“European football is always the challenge for a club like ourselves. I read somewhere about Celtic not having a knockout win for such a long time.
“But, for me, it’s about ensuring that domestically we continue with that success and see what we can do in Europe. That’s the big ambition.”
SPANISH SIGHS…Brendan Rodgers and skipper Scott Brown look dismayed following the home loss to Valencia.
On the homefront, Rodgers, speaking to Celtic TV, added: “We will look to improve. The best time to improve is when the team has been successful.
“I always think that’s the best time to increase the competition in the squad.
“That competition is always good for the players so we will have work to do, but I’m confident we’ll be able to do that.
“The team and the club is in a really good place. It is very stable off the pitch with a really good structure in place.
“The infrastructure around the club is excellent and the team is a young team, but a team with more development still left in it.
“It’s two different periods, but I’m equally excited coming in now and I look forward to the years ahead.”