May might mark the 50th anniversary of Celtic winning the European Cup but Brendan Rodgers is “realistic” enough to know the Parkhead side won’t match that achievement in Cardiff at the end of this season.
So he has welcomed being drawn in a group that is as glamorous as it is challenging. The manager believes winning their home games is the key after Celtic landed Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach, a re-emerging force in Germany, in Group C.
“There were other tough groups,” he said yesterday. “Look at the group with Real Madrid and Dortmund.
“The reality is we probably won’t win it. So you want to ensure that the club, the players, the supporters, get the best experiences.
“For me, those experiences are against the top clubs. I know Celtic have played Barcelona umpteen times in the last 12 or 13 years. But it is still a great experience and one we will look forward to.
“I think the home games are crucial. My experience in the competitions in Europe is that the home games are vital for you. If you can pick up your points at home and try and nick something away, which is of course extremely tough. But we’ve got to use the crowd, the amazing support we get at home which will lift the players for sure and make it a real intimidating place for the opponent.
“Notoriously for Celtic over many years it’s been difficult away from home, so that tells you we need to be better in our home games.”
He agreed no matter how many visits to the Nou Camp – Celtic have been drawn against Barcelona five times since 2004 – the experience “never gets boring”. He added, ruefully: “And that pitch never gets smaller.” Celtic lost 6-1 there on their last visit in 2013.
Rodgers is looking forward to a reunion with Luis Suarez, his star player at Liverpool. “He’s a top player and a great man,” he said. “It is always nice to see him. I also know how super-competitive he is. He will want to be working well and scoring goals.”
Rodgers viewed clashes against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City as every bit as testing as those against Barcelona.
“You see the investment in Manchester City and you have to be realistic,” he said. “Their investment in terms of what they are building makes them one of the superpowers of world football now.”
Meanwhile, midfielder Stefan Johansen, Scotland’s player of the year two seasons ago, has left Celtic to join Fulham on a three-year deal for an undisclosed fee.
Rodgers would not be drawn on the likelihood of Everton’s James McCarthy joining on loan. “There’s a number of areas and ideas that we’ve looked at,” he said. “I said I would want a creative player but there’s still a little bit of time to do something.”