Can Celtic break the Champions League groups stages?
With Celtic on course for another league title, much like Chelsea are in England, the Glasgow giants’ focus for the rest of the season is the Scottish Cup.
Four more victories in that tournament would surely lead the Bhoys to a domestic treble in Brendan Rodgers’s first season as manager at Parkhead. While that should be the aim for this season, for many at Celtic Park, attention is already turning towards next season’s European campaign.
Celtic’s progress to the group stage of this season’s UEFA Champions League wasn’t easy. The final 20 minutes of the second leg of their play-off against Hapoel Be’er Sheva in Israel were heart-stopping and, at the full-time whistle, the immediate reaction was relief rather than ecstasy.
The joy soon followed though as Celtic returned to group stage for the first time in three years.
Make no mistake; the leading tournament in club football is a much brighter prospect with Celtic’s involvement.
Brendan Rodgers: The man to reach group stages again?
With respect to what Celtic need to do to get back to European club football’s biggest stage, it all comes down to the club backing Brendan Rodgers.
With a full season behind him and some new additions, Celtic should be in better shape to tackle the rigours of the Champions League qualification process. The winter break will have helped refresh legs, and you can bet that Rodgers will have sharpened minds.
Players like Scott Brown, Stuart Armstrong and James Forrest have been reborn under the new gaffer, while new additions Moussa Dembélé and Scott Sinclair have been devastating.
With these players settled into life at Celtic, the Parkhead side will face next season’s qualifiers with greater confidence than they did in the 2016-17 campaign.
With respect to the final qualifying round, Celtic could face teams of the calibre of FC Copenhagen, Dinamo Zagreb and Dundalk. Anyone familiar with European football will know these are all strong sides, which means the Bhoys have to be on top form to reach the Champions League group stage again.
Some luck wouldn’t go amiss for Celtic. A horrendously unlucky draw ensured Celtic were up against it in this season’s group stage, and this season’s campaign perhaps came too early in the development of Rodgers’s side.
Then again, if Callum McGregor had scored late on against Borussia Mönchengladbach in November, the Hoops may have qualified for the UEFA Europa League.
If Celtic make it to next season’s Champions League group stage, they’ll need some good fortune. If Celtic had been picked in the same group as Leicester City or Tottenham Hotspur, they may have had European football to look forward to in 2017 – perhaps even Champions League football.
New faces would be welcomed come the summer, as would securing Paddy Roberts from Manchester City for a further spell, but the most important factor is Brendan Rodgers.
The impact the Northern Irish manager has had on Celtic has transformed the club, and the fans have bought into his vision.
With a safe standing area, Celtic Park is rocking once again, and European football can only benefit from having the Bhoys are involved in the its leading tournament.