Following Celtic’s 5-4 aggregate loss to Cluj on Tuesday, there wasn’t much positivity around the club. However, if Celtic couldn’t beat Cluj, then they simply wouldn’t have been near the same level as the three other teams that they would have faced in the Champions League had they made it to the group stage.
It is understandable that there was anger among the Celtic fans after the club failed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the second year running. But beneath the layers of bitter disappointment, there are some hidden positives to be taken from the club’s early elimination.
In the Europa League, Celtic at least have a chance to gain some confidence in the group stage and beyond, assuming they manage to beat AIK in the Europa League Play-off. Judging from what happened against Cluj, it is safe to assume that this Celtic side would have struggled to even finish third in a Champions League group. Celtic should not be getting beaten by 5+ goals in the Europa League, something that could have been a real possibility while facing Europe’s elite in the Champions League.
Yes, Celtic will miss out on quite a bit of money, but money doesn’t seem to be a problem at the moment, as the club hasn’t spent much even when they qualified for the Champions League in previous seasons. The Europa League on the other hand will be an opportunity for Celtic to be competitive in and will provide valuable European experience to the club’s young core, something the lack of which ended up costing them dearly against Cluj.
The left-back spot is obviously going to be a problem for Celtic with Kieran Tierney leaving for Arsenal, which means that Boli Bolingoli will occupy that position for the foreseeable future unless Lennon manages to find another option. And it is safe to say no Celtic fan wants to see Callum McGregor in that position ever again. Many of Celtic’s such weaknesses will be far less exploited in the Europa League considering the level of competition the club will be facing.
The biggest takeaway from the Champions League exit is that the Hoops won’t get smashed by the world’s toughest sides, something that would have been a real possibility this season considering we shipped four goals at home against CFR Cluj. Now though we have a chance to have a decent run in the Europa League against decent opposition. And, of course, a dream scenario would be facing Rangers in the knockout stages of European football.
Fans of Celtic should be excited that the club gets to continue its European competition, even if it is not in the “illustrious” Champions League.