Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers admits that even winning all three of their remaining Europa League ties (at home to RB Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg and away to Rosenborg) may not be enough to secure European football after Christmas.
Leipzig come to Glasgow on Thursday and, while he is unwilling to concede that qualification from Group B is beyond them, Rodgers accepts that the odds are not in his favour.
Consecutive losses to the Red Bull franchise have left them six points and nine goals worse off than Salzburg and three points and six goals adrift of their opponents from the Bundesliga and the recent resurgence in domestic form, while welcome, may not be enough.
“It will be full pelt but full pelt still might not be good enough for us,” he said. “What I do know is that the players will give their all; it’s not that these players won’t give their best.
“The ones who are fit and available will do everything and it’s up to the coach and staff to prepare them to try and win. We will take on that challenge and look to get a win.”
Rodgers bemoaned the fact that Celtic ended up in a group with Salzburg and Leipzig, both of who, he contends, are stronger than the AEK Athens team which beat them in their Champions League qualifier.
“There’s no question that is the case,” he said. “They are two top teams. It’s for governing bodies to decide which countries are eligible for automatic qualification. They’re talking about Rapid Vienna now, about Austria having another automatic place. That’s where we are and we have to get on with it.”
Celtic ended up with a weaker squad than last season due to selling Moussa Dembele, Stuart Armstrong and Erik Sviatchenko plus Patrick Roberts returning to parent club Manchester City and Rodgers once again lamented the club’s failure to recruit suitable replacements.
“It is the thing that doesn’t happen, though; you’re not continually building. We built for two years and then we change. It changes. Now, for me, probably, I see that a lot clearer in terms of actually where it is at.
“We were growing and developing from the first year in the Champions League to the second, when we came out of the group and went into the Europa League. We would love to say that you keep that group of players together and then you add those few bits of quality, but, of course, we lost big quality.
“You always hope that you can replace that; if you don’t, then you’re at a different start point and that’s where we were in the summer.”
He stressed, though, that the disappointment of the last transfer window has not diluted his enthusiasm for the job in hand.
“Listen, I am here and happy in my work and my life,” he said. “I know what the constraints are. We were probably all frustrated in the summer because, after the double treble and two Champions Leagues… my ambition is always for Celtic.
“I said that on the very, very first day I came in here. I promised the players three things: communication is open, that they would enjoy their work, and that we would show ambition.
“The ambition is for the club and for them to be the best we can be. Can I improve the individual players and, then, collectively as a team in order for them to be the best they can be and for the club to maximise their resources?
“Celtic has a model that has worked really, really well for them over a number of years. Of course, you always want to move it forward but, if you can’t, you have to find different ways.”
Rodgers, though, expects to be backed during the January window in a way he privately feels he was not in the summer.
“Will it be a lot of business? I don’t know,” he said. “But we know we need to improve; you constantly want to improve. That always has to be the plan. By the time we reach the end of December we’ll have had a hectic first period – a season’s worth of games in half a season. So we’ll look to develop the squad.”