The UEFA Champions League group stages get off to a start next week and, for a number of clubs, it’ll be their first venture into Europe’s elite competition this season.
Though Celtic’s path to the prestigious tournament started back in July. Clean sheets in their first five games against Linfield, Rosenborg and Astana had fans relishing the prospect of European football for another few months at least. Though despite a 5-0 win over Astana in the first-leg in Glasgow in the playoff round, it just wouldn’t have been a Celtic performance without some stumbles along the way. Our Kazak opponents defeated us 4-3 in a highly entertaining but intense game. New signing Olivier Ntcham was a standout performer that night, scoring a crucial away goal and dictating play in the middle of the park.
After our 8-4 aggregate win over Astana, the Champions League draw took place. As optimistic I was regarding who we’d be drawn with, I also kept my expectations low. We usually had to wait what felt like a lifetime before our name was picked out because of our Pot 4 status, though when the groups were drawn there was a mixture of dread and excitement. The champions of Germany, Bayern Munich, French giants Paris Saint-Germain and reigning Belgian champions Anderlecht, all accompanied us in Group B. Now I’m all for watching talent, but I’d take the glory over the glamour any day of the week.
Any outsider could take one glance at our group and write us off straight away, but, I’m one for remaining positive despite the sort of players Celtic are about to come up against. We begin our group stage journey at home to PSG, the side who recently splashed £198 million on Brazilian winger Neymar. You get a rough idea of just how tough our group is when they’re not even favourites to top it. A good start could see us getting something from the game but it’s going to be incredibly tough if PSG’s recent form is anything to go by. Many supporters are already looking to the Anderlecht games as the ‘easiest’ to get results compared to the big two sides. They sit 11th in the Belgian Pro League after five games. Our last game in the group is at home to the Belgian outfit, so it may turn out to be the match that decides who will be dropping down to the Europa League and who will be finishing rock bottom of Group B.
With some new faces having been added to the squad such as Ntcham and Edouard, as well as a familiar face known as Patrick Roberts returning for another season, the Hoops could end up surprising many as to how they fare in Europe this season – a Europa League run on the cards perhaps?