Celtic will make their return to the Champions League group stage at the venue where they left it three seasons ago after being handed the toughest possible draw in Monte Carlo yesterday.
The Scottish champions face opponents from the three strongest leagues in Europe after landing in Group C with La Liga champions Barcelona, English Premier League heavyweights Manchester City and Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach.
Celtic will open their campaign on 13 September against Barcelona in the Nou Camp, the scene of the 6-1 defeat which marked the end of their previous participation in the tournament proper in 2013.
Brendan Rodgers’ men will then take on Manchester City at Celtic Park on 28 September, before consecutive fixtures against Borussia at home on 19 October then in Germany on 1 November.
They will complete the group with a home fixture against Barcelona on 23 November followed by a trip to City’s Etihad Stadium on 6 December.
“It could’ve been easier,” said Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell who attended the draw for a group phase which could earn his club as much as £30 million this season.
“There’s some real glamour ties in there, really great nights ahead at Celtic Park. We have a great relationship with Manchester City, so there are some great nights ahead.
“It couldn’t be any more difficult but [Brendan Rodgers] has got off to a great start. It’s been a fantastic start.”
Lawwell added that Celtic will look to make one more addition to their squad before the transfer window closes.
“We’ll have an attempt to get one more in before next Wednesday’s deadline,” he said.
It will be Celtic’s ninth appearance in the group stage of the Champions League and the fifth time they have faced Barcelona in the tournament.
The Catalan club have become especially familiar foes in recent years, being drawn in the same group as Celtic in 2012 and 2013. Luis Enrique’s squad have already been installed as favourites to become European champions for a sixth time this season and Celtic will be the first side in Group C to face the daunting challenge posed by the attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
The main sub-plot of the group will be new Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola facing his former club Barcelona. City have started the season impressively under Guardiola, winning their first two Premier League games and crushing Steaua Bucharest 6-0 on aggregate in the Champions League play-off round.
Celtic have never faced City in a competitive fixture but have played at the Etihad once before, losing 2-1 in a pre-season friendly in 2009. Three former City players are currently in Celtic’s first-team squad – Dedryck Boyata, Scott Sinclair and Kolo Toure.
The ties against City could also see Celtic’s on-loan winger Patrick Roberts face his parent club in competitive action. “Why not?, said City director of football Txiki Begiristain last night. “Our target is to make him a better player and play in games such as this.”
Monchengladbach also provide fresh opposition for Celtic in European competition. They finished fourth in the Bundesliga last season which also saw them finish bottom of their Champions League group behind Manchester City, Juventus and Sevilla.
Thorgan Hazard, younger brother of Chelsea and Belgium star Eden, is among their most notable performers and helped them thump Young Boys of Switzerland 9-2 on aggregate in the play-off round.
Celtic manager Rodgers, whose only previous experience of the Champions League group stage saw his Liverpool side finish third behind Real Madrid and Basle two years ago, has expressed his determination not simply to make up the numbers this season.
But he could not face a more testing challenge as he bids to emulate Gordon Strachan and Neil Lennon, the only managers to previously lead Celtic out of the group stage and into the last 16 of the tournament.