It has taken a toll on some players, but it has been worth their endeavors after their hectic January schedule saw Celtic arise to the top of the cinch Premiership table and, barring an unforeseen slip in the Scottish Cup at home to Raith Rovers today, will extend a domestic unbeaten streak to five calendar months next weekend.
Match-after-match, the winning rhythm has been beaten out around the country, gathering momentum, wins and confidence. The relentless schedule is very much in contrast to that of Bodo/Glimt, the Norwegian champions who roll into town on Thursday for the first leg of the UEFA Europa League Conference knockout and have been out of competitive action for more than two months.
Celtic took time to find their gears after their close-season and Ange Postecoglou hopes that the opposite is true when Kjetil Knutsen’s side arrives at Celtic Park fresh from their own break from meaningful action with Celtic in the throes of an intense title race.
“There are advantages and disadvantages to both,” Postecoglou mused. “We experienced it in summer, playing Champions League qualifiers before a league game.
“They’re in a similar boat now but at the same time, they’ve had a singular focus on this game.
“They’ve been in Spain for pre-season and we’ve had people watch them.
“We know it’s going to be a big challenge, but we’re in good shape and have the advantage of being match fit and playing regularly. We want to take advantage of that on Thursday.”
Europe has been different to domestic matters for Celtic though. An early exit from the Champions League qualifiers to FC Midtjylland was followed by an indifferent start to the season and an awkward Europa League exit, into this new competition designed by UEFA.
They have turned their domestic form around and Postecoglou though, is remaining positive, as he did back then that they can do likewise on the continent and is keen to continue fighting on all fronts – atop the Premiership, in the Scottish Cup this afternoon and then on Thursday – and every prize counts.
“I don’t like to prioritize any competition. I think you can take it for granted. We’re probably going to be in Europe every year but if you start to prioritize you can miss opportunities.
“A win in Europe is always significant no matter who you play against – you have to fight to earn all of them.
“So I’m not discounting this. I want us to perform well in it and win because it adds to the prestige and story of this football club.
“I’ve never entered anything without thinking about trying to be successful in it.
“I took Australia to a World Cup and thought I could win it. I know people will say I’m being ridiculous but that’s just the way I’m made up.
“Why give up that opportunity if it exists? You could think about next year or the year after but that might never come.
“We’re in the competition and we want success in it.”
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