Neil Lennon has described Celtic’s 3-0 victory over Shakhter Karagandy as his greatest moment in football, but having qualified for the Champions League proper, the Hoops will face a much rougher ride in the group stage.
The draw has certainly not been kind to the Glaswegians, pitting them against giants Barcelona, AC Milan and Ajax.
Last season’s key men, Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper, have both departed Parkhead this summer in respective deals to Premier League sides Southampton and Norwich City. Wednesday’s win against the Kazakhs may have simply swept concerns over Celtic’s squad under the carpet.
Rangers’ ongoing predicament has allowed Celtic to trim their squad. With their closest rivals a division below them, Celtic are the overwhelming favourites for both the SPL title and the Scottish Cup and their lack of serious competition has meant they no longer need to keep their most expensive players on the books.
Paddy McCourt, Kelvin Wilson and Daryl Murphy have also opted to move south of the border and without Rangers, the challenges left in Scottish football are limited.
Group H will certainly provide a challenge for Lennon’s men, but the harsh reality is that the Scots will surprise everyone if they finish with anything other than the wooden spoon. The Bhoys made hard work of the two-legged tie against Shakhtar, going 2-0 down after the away leg. On a positive note, Celtic have a history with Barcelona, beating them 2-1 last season in one of their most famous European nights.
From a purely pragmatic point of view, Celtic’s progression in the Champions League is unlikely – particularly considering their group opponents – but domestically, a league and cup double is a very real possibility. If the Celts placed competing in the latter stages of Europe’s elite competition top of their summer wish list, their activity during this transfer window shows little sign of it.
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