Celtic won many admirers following their heroics in last year’s Champions League, making it to the second round despite an extremely tough group. The question is, though, can they do it again?
In 2012 they were in a tough group containing Spanish giants Barcelona, as well as Benfica and Spartak Moscow. They did the seemingly impossible and beat Barcelona 2-1 at home and narrowly missed out on a draw at the Camp Nou, whilst they beat Spartak home and away.
Their draw in this year’s Champions League has been no kinder to them, again drawing Barcelona as well AC Milan and Ajax. The challenge facing them this year is much harder than the one posed by last year’s draw. With the squad they had last year they had every chance of taking points from Benfica and Spartak. This year, however, they seem capable of only managing to take points from Ajax. They have already faced the behemoths from Milan, valiantly losing 2-0, and are unfancied at the moment in the Betway Sportsbook odds to get out of their group this year.
Also, their squad last year was considerably stronger. Losing Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama to Southampton is a huge blow. Wanyama effectively muted the Barcelona midfield duo of Xavi and Iniesta as well as scoring in the 2-1 win against Barcelona. The lack of this combative midfielder will leave Celtic vulnerable when facing class opponents. The loss of striker Gary Hooper further limits Celtic’s capabilities. They haven’t managed to replace the striker, who scored 82 goals in 138 games; lacking a serious goal threat up-front is a massive problem. Without taking anything away from Georgios Samaras, he isn’t the goal-scorer that Hooper was, and if you don’t score goals you don’t win games.
Ultimately Celtic will not repeat their heroics from last year, their group is ostensibly harder and their squad is much weaker. They face a challenge to even finish third and get Europa League football.