FIVE of the Celtic team who started the 3-0 victory over Anderlecht last month were also in the line-up that kicked off Brendan Rodgers’ first European tie as Celtic boss.
Craig Gordon, Kieran Tierney, Scott Brown, Tom Rogic and Leigh Griffiths were in the side that was embarrassingly beaten 1-0 by Gibraltar’s semi-professional outfit Lincoln Red Imps on July 12, 2016.
Nir Bitton and James Forrest were also in at the start against the minnows and both came on as second-half substitutes in Brussels.
Right-back Saidy Janko, who spent most of last season on loan at Barnsely after only four starts under Rodgers, joined St Etienne on a four-year deal in the summer and Efe Ambrose, after a temporary switch to Hibs in the run-in to the campaign, joined Neil Lennon’s oufit on a permanent basis.
Moussa Dembele drew a blank against Red Imps and was substituted after the interval by Nadir Ciftci who is now on loan at Plymouth Argyle.
Ryan Christie, who will spend the season at Aberdeen, was replaced by Forrest, Erik Sviatchenko missed the victory over the Belgian champions with injury while Stuart Armstrong spent the evening on the bench.
The team that flopped on Rodgers’ first competitive game for the Hoops after succeeding Ronny Deila was: Gordon; Janko, Ambrose, Svietchenko, Tierney; Brown, Bitton, Rogic (sub: Armstrong), Christie (sub: Forrest); Dembele (sub: Ciftci) and Griffiths.
OUR SECOND CQN PODCAST this week, featuring interviews with ex-Celts Alan Stubbs and Chris Sutton, previewing the big games this week against Bayern Munich and Hibs at Hampden on Saturday.
Stubbs gives an insight into Liam Henderson as a player and talks about where his career should go from here.
BT Sport pundit Chris Sutton, who was speaking at the SPFL Betfred League Cup media day, spoke about Celtic’s European challenge in Munich and his former gaffer Gordon Strachan’s departure from Hampden Park.
Speaking on behalf of BT Sport, Alan Stubbs also spoke about his regret at leaving Hibs, and looks ahead to the League Cup semi-final between two of his former clubs.
BT Sport is where the best go head to head. Watch Bayern Munich v Celtic exclusively live in the UEFA Champions League on BT Sport ESPN from 7pm tonight & Hibs v Celtic exclusively live in the SPFL Betfred League Cup on BT Sport 1 from 11:15am on Saturday 21st October.
Would it be so bad to drop to the Europa?
Okay, it’s time for some home truths. The Champions League is where it’s at, but the fact is that third place is probably where we’re going to finish in this group. But this is not a post lamenting the lack of progress we make in Europe. No, this is simply offering a more positive outlook on the possibility of finishing below two teams that are in a much better financial position than Celtic.
BetStars have us at 100/1 to win our Champions League group, and with PSG and an admittedly slightly shaky-looking Bayern in our way, you can understand why we’re not expected to advance. Now, of course, we are perfectly capable of doing the business and finishing second, but if we don’t, then dropping to the Europa League could be a blessing.
Still unconvinced? Well, then let’s lay it out for you. The Europa League is a fantastic opportunity for us to win a European competition, and if that means dropping down a tier, then so be it. There’s no shame in finishing third in a group that includes one of the most talented squads in Europe (Bayern) and one of the most expensive (PSG).
In fact, should we manage to beat Anderlecht at home, we’ll probably finish with more points than any football critic would have thought possible before a ball was kicked. Plus we are capable of picking up something in the games with Bayern, although no-one expects us to get anything in Paris.
So, if we, along with seven other teams, drop down to the Europa League, what chance do we have? Every chance. Right now, Arsenal look like the favourites in the Europa. In fairness, this says it all. This is a team that was just humbled by Watford, lost 4-0 to Liverpool, and scraped its way through the rest of its games. And they are the favourites? We can handle that.
Of course, there will be other teams — Milan, Lazio, and even Lyon, none of whom are quite as good as the media would have you believe. Add to that the other seven third-place finishers from the Champions League groups, and we have a pretty competitive contest with no real standout favourite. Having said that, it really all depends on who drops down with us. Whether it’s Dortmund, the two Moscow clubs, or even perhaps Atletico, there will be no pushovers, but the challenge that we’d be up against would certainly be within our means.
Martin O’Neill almost did it in the old UEFA Cup back in 2003, with Henrik Larsson banging in 11 goals throughout that tournament. What’s stopping Rodgers with Griffiths and Dembele from doing the same thing this season? Our win over Anderlecht proved that we can compete with other teams in Europe, just not necessarily one with the bank balance and firepower of PSG.
No team (nor their supporters) should want to lose a game, but if you could choose between progress to the latter stages of the Champions League or a genuine chance to win the Europa League, which would you opt for? The immediate reaction might be to choose to stay in the elite competition, but to compete against the likes of Juventus and Barcelona, we need more quality players on our squad.
To be perfectly honest, although we hate being humbled by any team, it’s not the end of the world. If we lose our opportunity to progress in the Champions League, then we’re in with a shot in the Europa. If we play out of our skins and qualify ahead of Bayern or PSG, then we’re on a roll with our confidence sky high. It’s a tough one, but either way, this season in Europe definitely won’t be the disaster the media thought it would be.