The European campaign starts now!

Celtic returned to action last Friday with a rather dull 0-0 draw with St Mirren. Now, almost a week later, they welcome Rosenborg for the second time this season to Celtic Park.

Both sides met in the Champions League qualifiers with Celtic emerging as winners over the two legs. Following Celtic’s exit from the Champions League in the following round at the hands of AEK Athens, the Scottish and Norwegian champions have now been grouped together with Salzburg and Leipzig in Group B of the Europa League.

The opposition may not appear as challenging as those you might find in a Champions League group. However, I would say that the only team that Celtic are definitely better than are Rosenborg.

Leipzig finished 6th in the Bundesliga and make up one of the seven German teams competing in Europe this season. This is only their second ever season in Europe and so far have made an impact.

Last season they automatically qualified for the Champions League, their first venture into Europe. They finished 3rd behind Besiktas and Porto but ahead of Monaco in their Group.

Having parachuted into the Europa League like Celtic, they beat Napoli on away goals in the last 32, won on aggregate over Celtic’s conquerors, Zenit Saint Petersburg in the last 16, only to be halted by Marseille in the Quarter Finals. Not a bad debut season in Europe if you ask me.

This season they have had one less round to navigate in qualifying than Celtic. The other difference being that all of their qualifiers have been in the Europa League, winning three legs and drawing three.

Salzburg are the seeded team in this group and have a much longer history playing Europe. Last season they made an impressive run in the Europa League all the way to the Semi Finals losing out to Leipzig’s conquerors, Marseille.

So as you can see, Celtic have their work cut out for them. Other than tonight’s visitors they are looking at opponents that have demonstrated an ability to go further in Europe.

That has to be something both Brendan Rodgers and Celtic Football Club have to aspire to. Having lost two good players over the summer, Celtic have recruited.

What has to be seen this season is a demonstration that the guys the club have invested in, no matter how much or how little they cost, are up to the job. The team is down in numbers, but that was the objective wasn’t it?

The question is do we have the right blend of youth and experience? Well, Brendan has left some senior players out of his UEFA squad.

Celtic’s B list is a squad of home-grown players, some of which are either first teams regulars already like Kiernan Tierney or those trying to make an impact such as Mikey Johnston. The A list consists of senior players and that is where you realise who is in the picture and who is not.

There were some omissions from that group which whilst are understandable, do leave you wondering why these players are still here. Nir Bitton was out injured for much of 2018 and so far has failed to get back into the team so it is not a total surprise that he has been left out of the European squad for the time being.

Dorus de Vries has slid down the pecking order for goalkeepers to the point where I imagine even Conor Hazard is ahead of him. With Scott Bain second to Craig Gordon it was unsurprising that de Vries was not included in this squad.

I fully expected Scott Allan to have left the club this summer and doesn’t appear to have a look in under Brendan Rodgers, as his UEFA squad reflects. As many others have stated, it is perhaps the McGinn debacle that scuppered any possible move to Hibs where he played some of last season on loan.

Kundai Benyu made two appearance for Celtic last season only to be farmed out on loan in January 2018 to Oldham Athletic. He hasn’t shown any sign of making the grade as yet and finds himself on the periphery of first team football.

Perhaps the two surprise omissions were Marvin Compper and Daniel Arzani. Neither player has really played for the Celtic first team, but their arrivals were suggested as key moves.

Arzani’s loan move to Celtic was no secret. It had been emblazoned all over the media for weeks.

When the young Australian World Cup player’s name was left out of the Europa League team I was bewildered. Sure, it’s Brendan’s call who is ready and who is not, but I don’t think I am alone in thinking he’d be included because he would probably be ready in the weeks ahead even if he is not now.

Compper of course arrived at the club in the January transfer window of this year. His only contribution so far at Celtic have been 83 minutes against Morton in the Scottish Cup Quarter Final which included a near calamity by the German.

Injuries have meant missing out on almost 20 games for Celtic since his arrival. Now it only appears to be the pecking order that has meant him being left out of first team matters.

You have to wonder if he’ll be seen at all this season. The only thing Compper can hope for is a change in fortunes between now and the end of his contract.

Unlike de Vries and Allan, who are now in their final year and time is almost certainly up, Compper has two years left. Arzani’s loan and Bitton’s contract run until 2020 whilst Benyu’s runs until in 2021.

With six senior players not making the UEFA squad, it shows that there are still some players with no future at the club. Between youth and experience, the idea is that you can provide a squad that balances out across the age spectrum.

The question is does Brendan currently have the quality that he desires to move forward? Well, we’ll see just how well we are clicking in Europe this evening at home to Rosenborg.

Celtic won 3-1 on 25th July against Rosenborg at home with goals from Odsonne Edouard (2) and Olivier Ntcham. The away leg was 0-0 with the job done in the first.

Now, much further into their domestic season, Rosenborg will be hoping to get a better result this time. Celtic will be looking for a similar result to kick of their Group B campaign.

This could be a good competition for Celtic if done right. But both the players and the coaching team need to stamp out the mistakes, be it tactical or with individual performances.

As pointed out earlier, Salzburg and Leipzig will be no pushovers. Anything but progression to the last 32 for Celtic will be seen as a failure and blamed upon a summer surrounded by negativity.

Fans will be prepared to draw a line under the summer issues for now. We will need to see the evidence on the park from the players and coaches in the games that lie ahead, otherwise there will be pitchforks and torches outside Celtic Park.

Right now, Celtic need to go out and get off to a good start. Time to begin the healing process Bhoys and mount an offensive in Europe.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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