It can be argued that Brendan Rodgers knows reaching the knockout stages of Champions League in a group that features Barcelona and Manchester City may be too tall an order.
But after inspiring Celtic to get a point against one of those giants in one of the most pulsating European matches in club history, his side has a chance to put itself in great position for at least a Europa League spot Wednesday when they host Borussia Monchengladbach.
Celtic (0-1-1) were a team that grinded into the group stages, evidenced by needing to labour past Gibraltar’s Lincoln Red Imps, Kazakhstan’s Astana and Israel’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva in two-legged playoffs just to be among the final 32 teams. That “happy to be here” vibe in their Champions League opener was quickly wiped away by Bareclona, who thumped the Scottish side 7-0 at the Nou Camp.
But Rodgers has galvanised the team since that debacle, with Celtic going 5-1-0 in all competitions, and the 3-3 draw at Celtic Park against Manchester City on Sept. 28 may have been the match where it all came together. Flying all over the pitch and refusing to let City have any time on the ball to set up their attack, Celtic traded haymakers with England’s Premier League leaders, taking leads on three separate occasions before being pegged back each time.
But it was the intent that Celtic will not lie down in this group stage and fight – plus potentially claw back some ground on City if they fail to register points in their two upcoming matches against Barcelona – that is providing optimism in Scotland.
“We always knew when the group was drawn that Monchengladbach would be the main competition – not to say that we can’t get anything off Manchester City or Barcelona, it’s just we know they are tougher sides,” midfielder Stuart Armstrong told Celtic View. “We know at home we can put up a fight against anyone as we have shown and players before have shown in the past. Having now got the draw against Manchester City, two good results against Monchengladbach could put us in a very good position.”
Celtic retained their four-point lead atop their domestic table with a 2-0 victory over Motherwell on Saturday, extending their unbeaten streak at Celtic Park to 21 matches (18-3-0). Scott Sinclair scored just after the quarter-hour before Moussa Dembele sealed the victory with a penalty three minutes from time.
“While some of our intricate play was good, and some of the quality of our football was outstanding, we could have created more chances had we pressed the game a bit better. That was the message at halftime,” Rodgers explained. “In the second half we came out and played the game much better and more often in their half of the field. We got two and arguably we could have had another five or six.”
Rodgers held out Tom Rogic, Mikael Lustig and Nir Britton from his starting XI over the weekend, but all three are expected to be available for selection Wednesday. Dembele, though, is a lock for a spot since he has 15 goals in his last 17 matches for club and country.
Borussia Monchengladbach (0-0-2) failed to do what Celtic did – nick at least one point off the group’s heavyweights. The German side pushed Barcelona hard last month, leading beyond the hour mark before yielding goals to Arda Turan and Gerard Pique in a nine-minute span in an eventual 2-1 defeat.
Domestically, it has been an uneven season for Monchengladbach, who are ninth in the table with 11 points through seven matches, six back of table-toppers Bayern Munich. The Foals were sluggish coming out of the international break and were held to a scoreless draw at home by Hamburger SV – both Andre Hahn and Lars Stindl missed penalties on either side of halftime, and Monchengladbach failed to capitalise on playing with an extra man for the final 65 minutes.
“We have to put the game against HSV behind us and start to focus on Wednesaday,” said defender Nico Elvedi – who missed a quality chance in stoppage time – to the team’s official website. “We want to secure all three points at Celtic Glasgow.”
Monchengladbach rank last among the 32 Champions League teams with just 19 shots attempted through two matches and second-to-last with only three on target. Manager Andre Schubert will have to make at least one change to his back line since starting centre back Andreas Christensen suffered a lower-body injury in Saturday’s draw.
Monchengladbach are hoping playmakers Thorgan Hazard and Raffael will be match-fit by kickoff or at least available in a reserve capacity. Both missed the draw against Hamburger, and Raffael has missed the last two domestic matches.
The teams have not met in-season, with the only contest a 2-1 victory by Monchengladbach in a 2013 friendly at Celtic Park. This is the first time Celtic are playing a German opponent in European play since a scoreless draw versus Hamburger SV in the group stages of the 2009 Europa League.
Monchengladbach, meanwhile, has not faced a Scottish side in European play since losing to Dundee United over two legs in the semifinals of the 1987 UEFA Cup. They also suffered their worst European loss on Scottish soil, an 8-0 shellacking administered by Rangers in the second leg of the 1960 Cup Winners’ Cup quarterfinals as part of an 11-0 aggregate scoreline.
Greece’s Tasos Sidiropoulos will be the man in the middle of all the action. It will be his first Champions League match of the season and 10th overall.
Lineups: Celtic (4-5-1): Gordon, Lustig, Simunovic, Sviatchenko, Tierney, Brown, Rogic, Bitton, Sinclair, Forrest, Dembele. Borussia Monchengladbach (4-3-3): Sommer, Elvedi, Korb, Jantschke, Wendt, Dahoud, Kramer, Traore, Hazard, Stindl, Hahn.
Prediction: Celtic 3-0.