Celtic have received a ‘big bonus’ by automatically qualifying for the Champions League group stages this season, according to Andy Walker.
After finishing runners-up in the Scottish Premiership in 2020/21, Hoops entered the second qualifying round of the competition last season and lost 3-2 to Danish side Midtjylland.
They then dropped out of the Europa League, which they qualified for after a pair of two-legged wins over Jablonec and AZ Alzmaar, and had played six European matches before the start of the domestic season on July 31.
A seemingly direct effect was the fact that their league form stuttered in August and September – and Walker believes the extra rest will benefit Ange Postecoglou’s side as they bid for a second title in a row.
Speaking after Scottish Premiership matches were published on Friday morning, he told Sky Sports: “I think the turnaround in Celtic’s fortunes over the last 12 months has been remarkable. Ange Postecoglou has done a tremendous job and everyone has bought into what he is going to do.
“Obviously he’s going to bring in new players and try to have some kind of impact on the Champions League. I know it’s going to be really tough. The big bonus for Celtic this year is that they don’t “Don’t have to go through these Champions League Qualifiers. The players could have a bit of extra rest and I think that’s important for all the challenges ahead.
“Winning the title was a huge boost for everyone, but you see what Rangers have done on the European stage – and I think Celtic’s European results have been really poor, so that’s clearly there. where they want to improve.
“It’s very difficult at Champions League level, but now we know that if it doesn’t go well you can fall in the Europa League. Celtic on the European stage need to improve and that’s fair enough. . It’s a good goal for everyone to achieve.”
“Old Business Matches Get Bigger”
The first Old Firm game of the season is set to take place at Celtic Park on Saturday September 3 and, with Celtic having won two of three regular season fixtures en route to the title, Walker suggests where the trophy ends up could again depend on results of these matches.
“I think they’re getting bigger and bigger every year,” he said.
“Rangers lost just three games last season, including two against Celtic – and I think that turned the title in Celtic’s favour.
“I think every single one of those games is hugely important, especially considering that Celtic haven’t dropped a lot of points at Celtic Park – they certainly haven’t lost a game there. Those Celtic-Rangers games are proving increasingly crucial.”
Kris Boyd added: “For 10 years Celtic ran away with the league, then Rangers ran away with it two years ago and Celtic and Rangers pushed against each other l last year and Celtic emerged victorious – and that’s how it should be.
“They are two fantastic football clubs, huge football clubs and they should push each other to the end. I’m already looking forward to it.”
Boyd: Decision needed on McGregor future
Meanwhile, Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor is out of contract at Ibrox this summer and former team-mate Boyd says it is imperative to decide whether he will extend his stay at the club or move to new pastures .
The 40-year-old has made more than 300 league appearances for Gers in two spells with the club.
“I think John McLaughlin has shown he can step in,” he said. “Whether he’s ready to play a full season for Rangers is another story.
“I imagine if Allan McGregor doesn’t sign a new contract, Rangers will bring in another goalkeeper. Then it comes down to whether you bring in a goalkeeper to be John McLaughlin’s second choice or if you bring in someone who is going to be the first choice. Those are decisions that Rangers are going to have to make.
“With McGregor, I think if you had said a few months ago that this would have been his last season, but with the way the season ended for him, he probably wants more. It’s difficult because when you come to the end of your career, you might only play 10 games and then all of a sudden you think maybe your time is up.
“Allan played the majority of games last season and it’s very difficult not to play 30-40 games because your fitness level is there and you showed you can do it at European level, won the Cup of Scotland and pushed Celtic all the way through the league.
“From a Rangers perspective you have to respect that because he has done a lot for the football club, but I can understand Rangers will want to know what happens soon.”
“Celtic hopes they can keep the hard core”
Paul John Dykes from the A Celtic State of Mind podcast:
“When you listen to Ange, he is very ambitious when it comes to Europe, but we know how difficult it is going to be.
“You hope you can make a good impression in Champions League games, but the priority is still the league and I’m sure there will be no complacency when it comes to retaining that league title.
“When you look at the way Ange approaches things, you’re hoping we can keep that core group together for three or four seasons and see them develop as a team. Too often in the past there’s always been one or two destined for big moves down south, and it always happened.
“There will be interest in Kyogo and Hatate, but you hope that won’t happen for another three or four years. They’re all playing together for the first time with a pre-season under their belts and there’s this galvanizing the effect of success.”
“Both sets of fans will be optimistic for the season”
Joshua Barrie from Rangers review:
“In April there was all the talk about overhauling the squad and you think Connor Goldson is going. There are still contracts to settle but now you have other players like Calvin Bassey going. demand a large sum if they go and if not you have an excellent player there.
“Goldson stays for four years, which frees up money elsewhere in the market.
“Gio van Bronckhorst’s European pedigree certainly gives you hope if you are a Rangers fan preparing for the Champions League playoffs. I think both sets of fans will be optimistic and still have a good season. .”