Celtic have found out the identity of their three Champions League group stage opponents and will immediately begin plotting how to possibly qualify from such a tough draw.
While Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Mönchengladbach are daunting hurdles to overcome (to say the very least), Celtic will always fancy their chances of getting something at a packed Parkhead, and manager Brendan Rodgers insists they are not there merely to make up the numbers.
Though further reinforcements are likely to come before the group gets started, we recruited Scotsman writers Alan Pattullo and Craig Fowler, along with Graeme Thewliss of the Terrace Podcast, to decide Celtic’s strongest starting XI (as things stand) before they embark on the latest stage of their European adventure.
As our three experts picked very similar XIs (only Craig Gordon and Callum McGregor were absent from all three teams) we’ve put together one side, with the debated selections decided on majority votes.
GK - Craig Gordon
One of our panel went for Dorus de Vries on the strength of the goalkeeper being named Nottingham Forest’s player of the year last season, while Gordon regressed a little after his stellar debut campaign at Celtic Park. However, the majority vote went to Gordon, who should still have enough credit in the bank to be considered the club’s No.1.
DR - Mikael Lustig; CB - Kolo Toure; CB - Erik Sviatchenko; LB - Kieran Tierney
The defence picks itself. Tierney has been a revelation over the past 12 months and plays with a maturity and poise well beyond his 19 years. At centre back, Toure has been excellent in every game since joining on a free contract this summer, while Lustig retains his place at right back so long as his main competition for the role is Saidy Janko. Some observers may select Jozo Simunovic ahead of Sviatchenko, but from what we’ve seen of the two, who played around half a season each last term, the Danish international remains the safer bet.
MC - Callum McGregor; MC - Scott Brown
The only other area of the side where the three observers disagreed. McGregor or Nir Bitton? There’s little doubt that Bitton has better ability on the football, both in terms of technique and composure. However, by a 2-1 vote, McGregor was selected alongside Brown because he’s a better fit for the Celtic team. With those two in the centre, Celtic have two industrious and energetic midfielders, each capable of getting in the faces of opponents and carrying the ball up the park when in possession. After a bright start as a partnership, it’s been well over a year since Brown and Bitton looked comfortable as a pair for any stretch of time.
AMR - Patrick Roberts; AMC - Tom Rogic; AML - Scott Sinclair
This is another unit that picks itself, which would have been difficult to imagine only last month when it wasn’t certain whether Rogic would remain at the club past the current transfer window. Since then each he’s signed a new deal and proved his worth in the first team. Roberts and Sinclair are a cut above on the flanks. As for Rogic, he’s managed to take his terrific form from last season up a level under Rodgers. His combination of size and close control make it almost impossible to get the ball from him in the final third.
FC - Leigh Griffiths
Moussa Dembele provides the strongest competition to Celtic’s leading goalscorer from last season. In what we’ve seen of the summer signing so far, he appears to lack confidence in front of goal. However, as evidenced by his substitute appearance in Israel earlier this week, he can provide a good out-ball in matches where Celtic are forced to sit deep in their own half. He’s stronger than Griffiths and has more tricks in his bag, allowing him to hold up play with better efficiency. But for matches where Celtic will have aspirations of attacking in numbers, Griffiths remains the obvious choice.