Celtic will be five games from the Champions League Groups when the draw is made for the first games in Europe in which we’ll take part.
It’s still a long route to get there, but three less matches.
The first three rounds in which we’ll play will be one off game affairs … the playoff round will still take place over two legs.
This changes things, but only slightly.
The task is straightforward enough. We’ll be seeded probably for every round but one, and in the Champions section, which means avoiding the bigger clubs … until the playoffs.
It is still quite ridiculous that we have to battle our way through four qualifying rounds, and the nature of the first three rounds will severely disadvantage the teams who are drawn away, but the first two rounds should not present any problems for us.
The best website for tracking the qualification rounds is Bert Kassies’ superb, and frequently updated, football site.
It is amazing to me that this guy works on the site every year on his own, and that no mainstream outlet does this job with him.
But the global health crisis has thrown a lot of things up in the air; most of the data he requires to work this stuff out isn’t fully in yet.
Some leagues are still taking place, whereas others have already ended.
We’re the highest seeded team in the first round according to his site, and therefore we’d miss – in that round anyway – the likes of Quarabag, Red Star Belgrade, Molde, Astana and others. Beyond that, it’s all still pretty up in the air.
From what’s known about the second round, there are two possible countries who’s winners could move above us in the seeding; Denmark and Switzerland, depending on who their champions are. This would, theoretically, still leave us comfortably in the seeding zone.
For the third round that’s going to be more up in the air; six teams will be seeded and in the final round only four will be … and Ajax, who enter at that stage, will be one of them. If the Champions for Denmark, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey and Austria all make it we’re facing one of that lot, including the Dutch masters, in the only two-legged affair for a place in the Groups.
Difficult. Not impossible.
But to avoid that fate, and be seeded, three of the teams from those nations would need to go out, or their leagues would need to be won by teams with lower co-efficients than ours. That will become a little clearer over the next few weeks, but we should prepare ourselves for the possibility of having to get past the Dutch superstars to gain our place in the Groups.
This not ideal.
What we’re hoping for, of course, is that the one-legged nature of the affair throws up some tough games for those above us on the seeding scale and that some of them face disastrous evenings.
That would do us nicely, and with his new format anything is possible in that regard.
Go out at that stage, of course, and we qualify for the Europa League Groups automatically; it’s the absolute minimum we should be striving for. The board needs to get the work of bringing in signings done quickly, they need time to bed into the team, and if that happens we’re in business.
Anything less will be seriously questioned, even at the current time.
There will be more Bosman’s available than in any year in living memory this summer; I hope to God we’re looking at that market, as it’s been good to us down through the years and I think it’s been shockingly underused for a while … let’s hope this summer changes that.
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