From an unbeaten domestic campaign last season to an unbeaten start to this one, Celtic really are on cloud nine, but they now need to go one step further in Europe to consider themselves a force to be reckoned with.
With 34 wins, four draws and zero defeats in the Scottish Premiership last season, the Glasgow side failed to win a game in their extremely tough Champions League group comprising of Manchester City and Barcelona, yet have another chance at European glory after qualifying for this year’s competition with an 8-4 aggregate victory over FC Astana.
The club cleaned up at last year’s end of season awards as Scott Sinclair, Brendan Rodgers and Kieran Tierney were named as PFA Scotland Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and Manager of the Year respectively, following a record-breaking sixth league title in a row.
With stand-out midfielder Stuart Armstrong signing a new two year deal, star winger Patrick Roberts returning to the club for another loan, and with five academy graduates starting the recent 2-0 win over Kilmarnock, Celtic seemingly have it all going their way.
But a nervy affair in their first defeat in all competitions since losing to Barcelona in Glasgow on November 23 against Astana, shows that complacency may just be sneaking into their game.
The Scottish champions have also strengthened their squad with the acquisition of Aberdeen’s Jonny Hayes, Manchester City’s Olivier Ntcham – who has impressed already this season with two goals – and 20 year-old South Africa defender Rivaldo Coetzee among others, and so perhaps they can eventually progress from this year’s Champions League group stages.
Fortunately these transfers haven’t hit the sky rocket prices of Neymar’s controversial switch to PSG, and so the Scottish side can only benefit further with the financial awards that arrive with Champions League qualification; £25m in this case, while Scottish football as a whole can reap the rewards, with £3m to be shared between the Premiership’s other 11 clubs
Last season witnessed Celtic make history with yet another domestic treble, but this season has provided the much-loved Rodgers and his talented squad with the perfect opportunity to finally break the mould and showcase their ability to compete with the top teams in Europe.
After knocking out both the champions of Norway and Kazakhstan in Europe, and with three wins from three in the league, Celtic fans are beaming with delight, and will be for some time considering the long-term commitment of Rodgers with a new four-year deal earlier this year.
The Northern Irishman has now targeted an extended European run into the new year, but whether his side have the physical and mental capacity to remain in the top competition remains to be seen, with the Europa League gateway always available as an unflavoured yet realistic backup option.
Their lack of competition domestically will however be cause for concern, while their durability will be tested as they travel across Europe and compete to their maximum ability both home and away, facing tough tests midweek and returning to Scotland to compete at the weekend.
With six players called up for Gordon Strachan’s latest national squad, and with the absence of players from both Rangers and Aberdeen, the champions have only strengthened their grasp on Scottish football, yet Champions League success of some form this season is required in order to prove just how big of a club they really are.