Celtic’s high risk path to Champions League football

Celtic will have an unusual path to qualifying for the UEFA Champions League Group Stage. But will it it be easy or harder than previous seasons?

It’s hard to tell for sure whether the approach to qualifying for the next Champions League Group Stages is simpler and easier, or a much higher risk than usual for Celtic. But based on form and the pessimism of experiencing last seasons qualifying defeat at home to CFR Cluj, it sure feels like there are risks involved.

Celtic are used to slogging away early in the season to get past round after round of qualifier matches to try and secure a place in the group stages. For this coming season, with so much else uncertain, that could be critical for the club finances, even without crowds and playing behind closed doors there will be huge sums to be made from playing in those group matches.

Some see it as good news though that rather than play a series of two-legged qualifiers, the games this season in the first three qualifying rounds are going to be one off matches. The final fourth qualifier will be over two legs though. Potentially it’s. three games less to play. But the risk is in a single game, one off result, home or away, subject to the vagaries of the draw and the seeding of course.

One off games can be quite unforgiving. Anyone recall Brendan Rodgers early competitive game in charge away to Lincoln Red Imps? Lost 1-0 away, bang, gone, out if that was this season,

Normally Celtic are playing games to qualify so early in the season that they haven’t quite hit their stride or fitness on the park levels and sometimes playing against teams who are well into their season already. That might not be such a big impact this year with so many variables across European leagues about when seasons stopped, started etc. All being well the Scottish league should already be underway by the time the first qualifying fixture comes around.

Celtic will be seeded in the draws, that will help,  but having sat in the stands last season achingly watching the hoops defence fall apart at home against Cluj, it’s very clear that anything can happen, and quite often does!

One game is simpler, cleaner and likely to be enough, but it’s a risky nail biting time ahead and the team won’t have the famous 12th man! The fabulous Celtic European night crowd, which makes such a difference.

Here’s the full dates for your diary for qualifying so far to set Celtic up for inclusion in the Group stage draw on 1 October

Champions League 20/21 calendar in full

Preliminary round: August 8 and 11

Qualifying round one draw: August 9

Qualifying round two draw: August 10

First qualifying round: August 18 and 19

Second qualifying round: August 25 and 26

Third qualifying round draw – August 31

Playoff draw – September 1

Third qualifying round: September 15 and 16

Playoffs: September 22 and 23 and 29 and 30

Group stage draw: October 1

Group stage: October 20 and 21 and 27 and 28

November 3 and 4 and 24 and 25

December 1 and 2 and 8 and 9