Celtic want to take 'better way to go' when it comes to juggling European and domestic commitments
Everything rests on their penultimate Champions League group game against Shakhtar Donetsk at Parkhead on Tuesday night. The home side know a victory is required to keep alive their faint hopes of qualifying for the knockout play-off round of the Europa League. They require four points at the very least, with a trip to face Real Madrid looming in the final round of fixtures.
Some contend Celtic benefitted from being knocked out of the Europa League at that stage last season against Bodo/Glimt. Rangers, meanwhile, defeated Borussia Dortmund at the same stage and then made it all the way through to the final. Celtic ended up securing the league title by four points from their Ibrox rivals. However, Postecoglou stressed that last summer’s investment was implemented with the target of competing on multiple fronts for as long as possible.
“I think we are coping all right now,” said the Celtic manager. “We are backing up, playing every three or four days, and we have only lost one game in the league. And the rest of the games have been a very good level of performance. We have won our cup games. So I still think it is the better way to go. I don’t think there is an easier or more certain route. But what you do have to have is a strong squad. And we worked very hard in the off season to get a strong squad and I think that has certainly helped us.
“From a cohesion perspective, it is a little bit disruptive when I am making five or six changes a game. But it means we are competitive in every game. If I had stuck with the same players we would have had a much higher injury rate and that would have affected our league form as much as us in Europe. And that I think is where the key lies, to have a strong enough squad. But we certainly want to be in Europe and competing in both cup competitions and the league.”
Postecolgou confirmed that Jota, who has been named in the provisional Portugal squad for next month’s World Cup, will miss the match against Shakhtar but should return in time for the weekend’s trip to play Livingston, although whether he features on the synthetic surface is another question. The winger has been sidelined due to a muscle injury.
Postecoglou is confident his team can cope with such significant absences. “I think all European football is a challenge,” he added. “You have to remember, for all clubs, not just ourselves, it’s a real balancing act playing in Europe and domestic football – particularly if you want to challenge in both. So, whether you’re playing in the Europa or whether you’re playing in the Conference, it’s still that challenge of backing up midweek with playing again at the weekend, travel, the physical toll from European football that it takes.
“Yes, it is important for us to try and qualify for a couple of reasons to the Europa – one, we couldn’t get our primary target and our second target is to play European football beyond January and we want to try and get that. It’s still a possibility, so why would we dismiss that?”