Since taking over the managerial reigns at Celtic last summer, Brendan Rodgers has had considerable success in his first year. He won the Scottish Premiership without losing a league match all season, and won both the Scottish League Cup and Scottish Cup to give Celtic the domestic treble.
Despite all this, arguably Celtic’s most important result all season was a 2-0 loss to Hapoel Be’er Sheva in Israel that saw the Bhoys qualify for the group stages of the 2016/17 UEFA Champions League.
A one-team Scottish Premiership
Ever since the expulsion of Rangers from the Scottish Premiership in 2012, Celtic have yet to experience any real domestic competition. Last season they won the league by 30 points and welcomed Old Firm rivals, Rangers, back to the Scottish Premiership by beating them in three of the four meetings (twice by a score of 5-1).
A decade ago if Celtic failed to qualify for the Champions League they still had serious competition for the league and cup from their cross town rivals to give their season meaning. The present day Rangers however, are just not enough to come close to challenging Celtic for anything.
The importance of Champions League football
Despite exiting the Champions League at the group stage last season, Celtic fared well. They participated in one of the matches of the group stage against Manchester City in a 3-3 draw at Celtic Park.
Players from clubs around Europe continually talk about the amazing atmosphere inside the ground on a Champions League night, so Celtic fans and players need the lure of a Champions League campaign in order for the season to have any sort of anticipation.
The days of previous manager Ronny Diela, where Celtic failed to make the group stages in back to back seasons, were forgettable despite their domestic success. Celtic will win the league, that’s essentially a given, but they need Champions League football to get the fans and players excited about the season.
A cloud over Celtic Park
In the third round of Champions League qualifying, Celtic stumbled past Rosenborg 1-0 on aggregate. In the playoff round they will face either Hapoel Be’er Sheva of Israel, Astana of Kazakhstan, Rijeka of Croatia, or Slavia Prague of the Czech Republic.
None of those teams will be easy, but given Celtic’s record last season and their experience in the Champions League, they will expect to make it back to the group stages this season. Anything less will bring a cloud over Celtic Park before the season has even begun.
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