Celtic stormed to success last season under Brendan Rodgers, finishing the entire SPL campaign unbeaten and winning both cup competitions along the way, as well as showing promising signs in the Champions League.
The difficulty for the Scottish champions is that it’s always difficult to assess where you can go after a record-breaking campaign. After all, Arsenal won the Premier League title in 2003/04 as part of a 49-game unbeaten run but haven’t won the league since.
Celtic are in an extremely difficult position, it’s certainly not easy to push on and even one defeat this term will be seen as step-backwards. So what exactly can Brendan Rodgers do to enjoy another successful season, even if Celtic don’t win everything and don’t remain unbeaten?
The answer lies in Europe. Celtic impressed in the Champions League last season but were unfortunate to be handed a spot in the group of death, where Rodgers’ men never really had a genuine chance of advancing to the knock-out stages as they clashed with Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach.
Last defeat in Europe:
Last defeat in Europe:
? Celtic – Messi's Barcelona 245 days ago.
? Rangers – Luxembourg's Progres Niederkorn three weeks ago. pic.twitter.com/diEWaRhyZE
— bet365 (@bet365) July 26, 2017
Celtic’s aim for the new season must be to secure knock-out European football at Celtic Park next season but whether that comes in the Champions League or the Europa League depends on the luck of the draw – and whether the Scottish champions can overcome Astana in the play-offs later this month.
UEFA’s coefficient ranking means that Celtic are almost guaranteed a difficult draw if they advance through to the Champions League group stages but there will be more favourable options for the Bhoys, who’ll hope to avoid the big boys in pots one and two.
Regardless of their draw, Celtic’s aim must be to finish third in the group, sealing a passage through to the knock-out stages of the Europa League, but Rodgers’ side must see how it goes. If there’s the chance of advancing to the last 16 of the Champions League, then that’s what they must aim for.
First point of call for Celtic is overcoming Astana, with the first of the two legs being played next week, and Celtic’s result from this fixture will provide a huge impact upon their remainder of the transfer window. If they lose, then the likelihood is that Moussa Dembele will be on his way out.
If Celtic can offer the young Frenchman Champions League football, then he’s likely to stay. If they lose and go through to the Europa League though, Dembele may fancy his chances of moving to someone like AC Milan – a side that can also offer Europa League football and arguably a more promising trajectory for the former Fulham man.
Europe is crucial for Celtic this season as they’ll find they’re there to be shot at domestically, as every club in Scotland would love to be the side that brings an end to the champions’ fantastic unbeaten run. Everyone wants to beat the title holders and clubs have an extra incentive in the new season.
If Brendan Rodgers can navigate through the Champions League play-offs and bring knock-out European football to Glasgow next season, then the former Liverpool boss will be well on course to making Celtic a powerhouse on the continent once again – which will prove to be extremely beneficial to Scottish football in general.