In a week where Celtic didn’t kick a ball, there were some fairly positive moments. Scottish and European competitions went ahead as planned without Celtic and their SPFL colleagues in Aberdeen, but results at home and abroad reflected very well on the Hoops.
After the Bolin-own-goli saga put paid to the midweek fixture away to St Mirren and the home match against Aberdeen at the weekend, all we could do was look on and watch Scottish (and European) competitions progress without us. We’d been told that by the time Celtic kicked a ball in the domestic game again they could be 11 points behind in the Scottish Premiership, but I’ll come to that later.
For the time being I want to focus on the Europa and Champions League. Ironically, we’re set to play our first European qualifier tomorrow night against KR Reykjavik at Celtic Park, whilst the competitions from last season are still being played out.
Last Monday saw Manchester United overcome our victors from the last 32 of the Europa League, FC Copenhagen. However, it took Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s team until extra time to score a penalty in order to beat his former Norwegian team mate in the opposite dug out.
Given that we squandered our two-legged affair at home against the Danish side, I feel a bit better that United struggled against them. On Tuesday though, Wolves were dumped out of the same competition by five time winners Sevilla.
On Thursday, Celtic’s Europa League rivals from 2018/19, Leipzig, beat Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. On Friday, Bayern Munich absolutely destroyed Barcelona.
Saturday saw Lyon’s Moussa Dembele come off the bench to score a double against Manchester City and they will now face Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final. Sevilla then ejected Manchester United from the Europa League to complete a miserable week for English clubs.
The best league in the world? Tell that to the Germans.
What do all of these fixtures have to do with Celtic and/or Scottish football you ask? Well, they all make what Celtic have done in the last few years in European competitions all the more credible.
Don’t get me wrong, Celtic have had some humiliating defeats in Europe under Brendan Rodgers, specifically PSG and Barcelona. So to see Munich wipe the floor with the Catalan giants 8-2, just goes to show that even the big guns of continental Europe are not devoid of a hiding themselves.
Celtic lost 7-0 and 7-1 to Barcelona and PSG respectively and that was only back in 2016 and 2017. Given that we operate on a totally different financial plain than the Euro-giants mentioned before, it does put us in a slightly better light in the wake of a high score annihilation.
It’s also nice to see one of our former idols scoring another brace against Premier League billionaires Manchester City. Moussa Dembele scored twice at Celtic Park against Pep Guardiola’s side in 2016 in the first of two draws with the Premier League big boys.
With Lyon now in the semi-finals, you’d expect Dembele’s stock to have risen significantly whether his side progress to the final or not. And that is a huge boost for Celtic as well because any potential move for the French international, will mean an onset bonus for the Celtic Park finances.
It’s also worth noting that all four semi-finalists have played Celtic in recent times. A Celtic IX narrowly lost 2-1 to a full strength Lyon just weeks ago.
Celtic lost 3-0 away and 2-1 at home to Bayern Munich in 2017 which is certainly nowhere neat the mauling they gave Barca. We also lost 2-0 away and won 2-1 at home against Leipzig not so long ago either.
Of course, there’s no escaping the hiding PSG gave us in 2016. 5-0 at home and 7-1 away by probably the most deadliest forward line that season and they’re still doing it.
Neil Lennon did preside over a 4-0 defeat in last month’s pre-season friendly in the Parc de Princes. I have to admit though that scoreline aside, Celtic played very well and even managed to frustrate the French champions.
Neymar showed that he’s still a petulant wee sod. I still don’t rate him for the simple reason he lacks the class and professionalism like the guys he tends to play alongside.
Still, it shows there is still a huge gap in terms of where Celtic are and where the top flight are. We know the Scottish game is not going to be flooded with cash either so we can only aspire to be better.
So Celtic must keep building on what they have. Buying and selling is our thing, but from time-to-time we must retain to keep our standards high and hopefully we will retain who we have right now at least until next summer.
On the domestic front, it’s a different story of course. We know there is a significant gap between ourselves and the rest of the league, even though our friends across the city are spending like it’s the Moonbeams era all over again.
Which brings me to my earlier mention of a “gap” in the league. Whilst Celtic shaped up for the Icelandic champions tomorrow night and Aberdeen tried not to break their curfew in the Granite City, most of the other Premiership clubs got on with their scheduled games.
After Celtic drew at Kilmarnock and Bolingoli’s breach of restrictions became clear, the news that Celtic would have two games postponed got certain areas of the Scottish mainstream media a little moist. We were made aware that an eleven point gap could be in place by the time Celtic return to domestic football at 5.30pm this Saturday at Tannadice.
Now, not only was that a huge assumption to be making, it’s also now a pile dung. Because Slippy and his Castore clan did indeed slip up on a plastic pitch like Celtic did a week earlier.
A 0-0 result at Livingston meant that an opportunity to put pressure on Celtic had now vanished like a fart in the wind. Some would have had you think that these games were going to decide the league in mid-August.
I mean really? Doesn’t anyone know that games at hand tend to be quite useful?
It’s a false dawn to think that gap is real especially for a club like Celtic who have dominated our game for at least two decades. Unless of course you throw away genuine opportunities to close the gap like say Steven Gerard did when his team failed to return from Dubai in January this year.
Though to be fair, they did make it to the last 16 of the Europa League. If it hadn’t been for that darned coronavirus I’m certain they could have turned around that second leg against Bayer Leverkusen.
Anyway, we’re back in action tomorrow against Knattspyrnufelag Reykjavikur. No I’ve not been drinking, that’s what they’re called.
We might get to see our new boy Albian Ajeti play his first minutes tomorrow night too. Though Neil Lennon has stated that he is not ready to start, he is in the squad.
The protracted pursuit of the Swiss international came to a conclusion when Celtic purchased the former FC Basel striker. It had been long thought that he had cooled his interest on a so called loan deal, but Celtic secured him on a four year contract after Neil Lennon and Nicky Hammond demonstrated their eagerness to obtain his services.
I’m looking forward to seeing him replicate what he did at FC Basel. West Ham was a blip where he didn’t really get much of a chance so hopefully we will be the benefactors of that failure.
Coincidentally, it is his former club’s exit in Europe that has further benefited Celtic. Should we be crowned 10IAR Champions, Celtic will go straight into the Third Qualifying Round of the Champions League next summer rather than the First and even if we did fail there, we will make the group stages of the Europa League.
Coupled with a steady improvement in our own European form, this is really good news. We may not have kicked a ball for over a week, but it’s been a pretty good week!
The only blip on the horizon is the charges against Celtic regarding Bolingoli’s breach of government guidelines. The player has already received a fixed penalty from Police Scotland, an issue which has questioned why others in society who breached government guidelines escaped such punishment.
However, Celtic are set to receive some form of punishment despite not knowing what the player was up to. It is disappointing given that what players do outside the confines of the club are not within their control.
As Neil Lennon stated, Celtic have been at the forefront of implementing testing and procedures for coronavirus in the Scottish game this summer. Why would the club throw away that good work?
All Celtic can do is await the outcome, challenge where appropriate and get back to playing the game. Hopefully, without the services of Bolingoli.