Twelve months after suffering their biggest loss in any continental fixture when they were crushed 7-0 by Barcelona in the Nou Camp at the same stage last season, the Scottish champions were put to the sword on their own patch by big-spending Paris Saint-Germain.
The Qatar-owned French club’s £420 million strike force of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani all scored to kill the contest before half-time before an own goal from Mikael Lustig and Cavani’s second of the night added further misery for Brendan Rodgers’ men.
The gap between their domestic invincibility and competing credibly with Europe’s current elite has never appeared more difficult to bridge. Already, this Group B campaign for Celtic looks like boiling down to a battle for third place with Anderlecht who lost at Bayern Munich. To compound Celtic’s dismay last night, they also face fresh Uefa disciplinary action after a supporter invaded the pitch and attempted to kick Mbappe.
In seeking a solution to the considerable problem posed by PSG’s potent attacking triumvirate, Rodgers took the bold decision to hand Anthony Ralston his first European starting appearance for the club.
The 18-year-old’s inclusion at right-back allowed Lustig to join Jozo Simunovic in central defence. It was a set of circumstances which underlined the consequences of Celtic’s lack of success in pursuing reinforcements for that department of the squad during the summer transfer window.
Before PSG fully hit their stride in such emphatic style, Ralston made an encouraging enough start to the contest. The teenager certainly didn’t appear overawed by the occasion as he made a some solid interceptions and also showed the physical aspect of his game with a couple of robust challenges on Neymar, the second of which earned him a ‘no more’ signal from the Italian referee.
While the visitors dominated possession from the off, it was Celtic who posted the first attempt on goal. Counter-attack was the key to any hopes they had of upsetting the odds and one such raid saw Olivier Ntcham drag a shot narrowly wide after 10 minutes when a pass to the unmarked Patrick Roberts on his right might have been a wiser choice.
PSG were soon camping in and around Celtic’s defensive third of the pitch, however, and Cavani provided the first warning sign of what was to come when his 15th minute tap-in from Layvin Kurzawa’s cross was ruled offside.
The Uruguyan front man then stung Craig Gordon’s palms with a powerful 20 yard volley as PSG looked to move through the gears. Their opener arrived in the 19th minute, albeit not without an element of controversy.
Celtic were incensed at the referee’s failure to award them a free-kick for Thiago Motta’s challenge on Scott Sinclair in the build-up. That said, Celtic were subsequently collaboraters in their own downfall as Leigh Griffiths cheaply conceded possession and PSG swept forward with Adrien Rabiot’s through ball finding Neymar stealing a yard on Ralston before lofting an assured finish beyond Gordon from around 10 yards.
Griffiths almost delivered a spectacular and rapid response for the hosts when he lined up a free-kick all of 35 yards out after Roberts’ weaving run was illegally halted by Marco Verratti. There were echoes of the striker’s set piece double against England in June as he curled in a brilliant left foot effort which prompted an equally impressive one-handed save from Alphonse Areola.
They were the kind of moments which had to go Celtic’s way if they were to retain any prospect of a recovery. Instead, PSG tightened their grip on proceedings when they doubled their lead in the 34th minute.
Verratti’s cross from the right was headed back across goal by Neymar, dropping into the path of Cavani who missed the ball completely with a fresh air swipe. The Celtic defence were not quick enough to react and Mbappe pounced to drive a shot high into the net.
Celtic were struggling to retain any worthwhile possession, while also expending huge energy in attempting to close down their technically superior opponents. The last thing Rodgers’ side required was the needless concession of a third goal before half-time but that was exactly the situation Simunovic put them in. A cross from Kurazawa was harmlessly over-shooting the penalty area when the big Bosnian inexplicably pulled back Cavani right in front of the referee who immediately pointed to the spot. Simunovic was also booked for his trouble before Cavani swept the penalty kick imperiously beyond Gordon.
It was too much to take for one moronic home supporter who found a route through the stewards, running onto the pitch and managing to aim a kick at Mbappe before he was restrained and removed.
Sinclair forced a decent save from Areola in first half stoppage time but it had been a chastening opening 45 minutes for Celtic.
Rodgers made a change at the start of the second half, the ineffective Stuart Armstrong staying in the dressing room as he was replaced by Tom Rogic. The home crowd were roused by a more vibrant approach from their side who managed to force themselves onto the front foot for a spell.
Their persistence was admirable with first Ralston and then Sinclair coming close to pulling a goal back before their respective efforts were smothered. There remained a constant sense, however, that PSG could re-impose themselves whenever they wished and Neymar missed a clear chance to increase the lead when he blazed a shot over after a dazzling five-man, one-touch passing move.
The little Brazilian’s late booking for taking a dive under a Lustig challenge at least allowed the Celtic fans to express some enjoyment at his expense as they produced one of their loudest cheers of a night.
They were subdued by the finale to the match, however, as first Lustig diverted a cross from substitute Julian Draxler into his own net before Cavani’s looping header completed the unwelcome record scoreline.