Callum McGregor believes Celtic have a psychological edge over Rosenborg which can ensure they make a winning start to their Europa League campaign this week.
The Scottish and Norwegian champions will face each other for the third time in just over a year when Group B, which also includes Bundesliga outfit RB Leipzig and Austrian champions Red Bull Salzburg, kicks off at Celtic Park on Thursday night.
Celtic have beaten Rosenborg in both of their recent pairings, winning 1-0 on aggregate in the third qualifying round of the Champions League last season and then securing a 3-1 overall success in the second qualifying round of the same tournament last month.
As Brendan Rodgers’ side look to put the disappointment of failing to go on and reach the Champions League group stage behind them, McGregor believes the mastery they have established over Rosenborg puts them in a strong position to launch a successful run in Europe’s second-tier tournament.
“I think the fact that we’ve eliminated Rosenborg twice in the last two seasons gives us an advantage psychologically,” said the Celtic midfielder. “When you’ve played well and beaten opponents before, then it gives you the belief that you can get more results against them.
“We know that we can beat Rosenborg, so it’s up to us to turn up with the right attitude on the night. The first game being at home is another bonus for us – the crowd will be behind us and, if we can take the three points, then it’ll help us push on as we look to get out of the group.
“It’s a tough section. When you look at the rest of the competition, most of them are like that. You think of the Champions League as being a level above but when you see some of the teams who are in the Europa League, then there’s no shortage of quality.
“The standard is high – Rangers have a difficult draw in their group as well – but we’re looking to do something in Europe this season and this will be a good test for us.”
McGregor, who has proved something of a Celtic talisman in Europe where he has scored nine goals in his career, was disappointed by Friday night’s 0-0 draw at St Mirren in the Premiership in the first match after the recent international break.
The 25-year-old Scotland international wants Celtic to hit their stride as, starting off against Rosenborg, they face six games in 18 days in the Europa League, Premiership and Betfred Cup. It’s a potentially defining spell of the campaign and McGregor feels Celtic can draw on their past experience of such a demanding schedule.
“It’s foot to the floor at this stage of the season,” he added. “There are another six games for us before the next international break in October and they’re all important ones in different competitions.
“We’ve got to be right at it all the time from now on. We’ve had this for the last three seasons now, so we’re getting used to it in terms of being ready fitness-wise and getting our preparation right for each match.
“There are cup ties, European matches and crucial games in the league so you’ve just got to take that in your stride and keep churning out performances.
“There was obviously a bit of disappointment for us after going out of the Champions League to AEK Athens but we made sure that we qualified for the Europa League and that was a big thing for us.
“But the Rangers match in the league at the start of this month was crucial as well. We felt that we had to put down a marker and let people know that we’re still here and we’re not going away.
“The performance on the day was excellent and if Allan McGregor hadn’t pulled off a string of excellent saves, then we’d have beaten them by three or four goals again.
“It’s good for us to know that we’ve still got that in our locker and that we’re able to turn it on when it comes to the big occasions.”
Celtic are still adjusting to the loss of Moussa Dembele on transfer deadline day but McGregor believes it could lead to Ryan Christie finally emerging as a key performer in the front line for the champions.
While Christie, a fairly regular scorer in his loan spells at Aberdeen over the past two seasons, has been largely restricted to substitute appearances for Celtic, McGregor thinks his 23-year-old team-mate is ready to make a major contribution in the coming weeks.
“Ryan has fantastic ability and you’ve seen the tremendous impact he’s made when he’s come off the bench in some of our recent games,” said McGregor. “The manager likes him as well.
“Technically, he’s at the top level and Moussa’s departure has created a big opportunity for him. Ryan has all the skill in the world, he’s a good kid and he works really hard at training every single day. I don’t see any reason why he can’t do well for us.
“It’s sometimes just about being patient, waiting for your chance and then taking it. Our squad has been really strong in the last few years and Ryan was probably just outside that but whenever he did train or play with us he was still at a really high level.
“He was just unfortunate that guys like Moussa were doing so well but, with the big man gone, I’m sure he’ll take full advantage of that now.”