Celtic refuse to settle for third place in Champions League

Brendan Rodgers will refuse to allow Celtic to simply set their sights on third place in a tantalising Champions League group which has bracketed them with Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Anderlecht.

Paris Saint-Germain's Brazilian forward Neymar is the world's most expensive footballer. Picture: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images
Paris Saint-Germain's Brazilian forward Neymar is the world's most expensive footballer. Picture: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

The draw at the Grimaldi
Forum in Monaco set the Scottish champions as daunting a challenge as they could face against five-times European champions Bayern and French giants PSG, who smashed the world transfer record with their £198 million capture of Brazilian superstar Neymar from Barcelona.

Most observers have already identified Celtic’s best hope of extending this season’s European campaign beyond Christmas as a race for third place in Group B with Belgian champions Anderlecht, which would secure progress to the last 32 of the Europa League.

But Celtic assistant manager Chris Davies insists that mindset simply won’t be tolerated by Rodgers as they try to upset the odds and reach the last 16 of the Champions League.

“Third place is what people will immediately look to,” admitted Davies. “But from our perspective it certainly won’t be the message that we’re internally giving to the players from the manager. That’s just not the way that we work, that we’re resigning ourselves to third place.

“A club of this size doesn’t do that. You have to look to each game and give it everything and see what happens. The challenges are clear and are clearly really big for us. We will be playing probably two of the biggest and best clubs in world football in our group. But, having said that, the record that we have got at Celtic Park is always something that works in our favour.

“For us, qualifying is a fantastic achievement and you have to look at what you are up against now. There is a massive gap which has opened up in Europe, more than ever, between some of these elite teams and the rest. You have to be mindful of that. The money PSG are spending on one player alone is incredible.

“But it’s not as if we have players who haven’t played at this level before. We’ve got some excellent players ourselves with Champions League and international experience.

“Neymar has gone to PSG with that enormous transfer fee but he is someone our players have played against last season when he was with 
Barcelona, so that’s a good reference for them in terms of their level. That will give them confidence.

“You look at the draw and there are world-class players in every group. Brendan is a realistic, pragmatic manager. But, at the same time, he gives players belief and confidence. He has a lot of confidence in the way we play and what we can produce. It is an exciting challenge, not one which scares us.”

Davies was also at pains to rebut criticism of Celtic’s defensive strength in the wake of their 4-3 defeat against Astana in Kazakhstan this week in the second leg of a play-off round tie they won 8-4 on aggregate.

“You have to look at the context of the game,” he said. “We were up against a team putting enormous risk into it, we had a lot of injuries. They were the first goals we’ve conceded in six qualifiers this season and we’ve only conceded one in domestic football.

“We are now going to be playing against teams who are favourites to beat you. You are the underdog against the likes of PSG and Bayern.

“It’s not something that is new to Celtic, going into these kind of games against really good teams. We are going to embrace it and look forward to it. We are going to control what we can in terms of planning for the games tactically.

“It’s an exciting challenge for us all, The players can look forward to going out and showing the same personality they did away to Moenchengladbach, Manchester City and Rosenborg – references where, in good European venues, we performed well.”