On Thursday last week, our title rivals beat Red Star Belgrade 3-0 in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie. That sounds like great news for them and the press has presented it as such, and of course on one level it is.
They’re likely to advance in the competition and make some much-needed cash to help keep the lights on. They also receive coefficient points to improve their club ranking in Europe.
The same night, Partizan Belgrade were hammered 5-2 at home to Feynoord in the Europa Conference League.
With both Serbian teams odds-on to go out of Europe and Russian clubs expelled from Europe, it is now all but certain that Scotland will be 9th in the UEFA rankings this year.
That’s a big deal, as the 22/23 SPFL champions will have a 100% guarantee of a place in the Champions League group stages the following season.
If the club across town stage a comeback and win the league, a lot of their Champions League money will disappear like snow off a dyke.
Directors will be looking to claw back some of their loans, Mike Ashley will be pocketing £10 million from his impending court case, and of course there is the need to fund another year of the operating losses that are actually built in to their business plan when you exclude European income.
Meanwhile Celtic will be out for revenge, with key players finally rested and ready to play a full season of Angeball, and for sure with some new faces added to the squad.
In short, even if the Ibrox club wins the league this year, they can expect a massive challenge from Celtic next season – and that’s their best-case scenario. As things stand, Celtic are big favourites to be crowned champions in May.
If that’s how things play out, they are in a world of pain.
More losses on the way, no Champions League pot of gold, Ashley still demanding his £10 million, several key players with 12 months left on their contracts.
At the same time, a cash-rich Celtic will be backing Ange in a big way to add more quality to a winning squad to compete at CL level.
In that situation, they will do very well to stand still, while Celtic are taking a giant step forward. Who would bet on them then?
They simply have to win the league this year despite being 3 points and 12 goals behind – but if they go through against Red Star, they add two tough games to an already-demanding schedule for a squad that is already creaking at the seams.
That some of their allies in the press are already expressing their concern over it – particularly with last night’s cup draw – is telling.
Their win last Thursday hands a huge windfall to next year’s champions, and right now that looks likely to be us. Because it adds up to a fixture congestion which should give us an extra level of confidence that those champions will be wearing green and white hoops.
NeilR is a Celtic fan and frequent contributor to several forums including CQN. This is his CelticBlog debut.