Manchester City have flattered to deceive in the Champions League since becoming one of the richest clubs in the world, before reaching the semi-finals of the competition last season. That contest ended in a 1-0 aggregate win for Real Madrid, closer than many expected, based on City’s domestic form at the time.
What happened at City last season is the stuff books are written about, well after the event. They took the early season by storm, but when it became clear manager Manuel Pellegrini was to be replaced by Pep Guardiola in the summer, results fell apart. Even their highly-credible results against Real Madrid were criticised for a perceived lack of effort in places.
Now Guardiola is in charge and City are short odds on to take the title. The look imperious in English football, while their 4-0 trouncing of Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League earlier this month was remarkably comprehensive.
Celtic have managed to draw a Champions League group stage with two of the four top favourites to win the tournament. Barcelona are favourites with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid behind, but City are ahead of recent finalists Juventus and Atletico Madrid. The other UK clubs barely rate a mention.
This luck of the draw is far from a normal event. It appears harsh on pot three team, Borussia, and absolutely daunting for pot 4’s Celtic. The humbling in Barcelona two weeks ago served Brendan and the players with a lesson, perhaps not their last this campaign, but tomorrow gives us a chance to face off against one of the best teams in the world. It will be exhausting and exhilarating, but we should face it with some anticipation.
You are going to see Celtic score four, five and six against many teams this season. We are so far ahead of the rest of Scotland this is the norm. These Champions League games are the bonus which will illuminate the dark evenings, but they will also provide a valuable yardstick to measure the scintillating football we watched at the weekend.
Are Kieran and Tom ready to face the best in the business? Do Scott Sinclair and James Forrest have a point to prove? Can Leigh and/or Moussa use their pace to create space against top international defenders?
By 21:45 tomorrow evening you’ll know some of these answers. Give me this kind of stress any day, instead of Molde or Fenerbahce.
Thanks for all the support for the Great Scottish Run for the Celtic Foundation on Saturday. Special thanks for those who got the MyDonate account up to this level (below) yesterday. And a bigger thanks to the person who moved us on!