Celtic captain Callum McGregor believes his side have really benefitted from not having a summer filled with European qualifiers.
Scotland’s improved co-efficient meant that the league winners earned direct entry into the Champions League at the group stage, sparing Celtic the qualifiers that have been a staple of recent summers and shaped the team’s preparations.
As a stalwart of the team, McGregor had grown used to short summer breaks and extra games each season. He says that having more time to prepare in pre-season has already shown benefits, even before the European campaign starts.
“It’s definitely been a slower start to the season in terms of the number of games we’ve played but it’s also given us good time to train and prepare really well for the games we have had,” McGregor said.
“You can see from the start we’ve had that the boys are working hard, they look fit and the team looks pretty cohesive.”
Celtic face Hearts in the league on Sunday and then attention will turn to Thursday’s Champions League draw, where McGregor and his teammates will learn which of Europe’s elite they have been paired with. The seedings mean Celtic are guaranteed at least a couple of glamour games and when asked for a preference, the captain admitted that most supporters want to face the current continental champions.
“We’re really looking forward to the Champions League,” said McGregor. “The play-off games are getting close to a conclusion and the draw will be after that.
“We’re focused on looking after the league business, the here and now, but in the back of our heads we know the Champions League is coming around pretty quickly.
“We’ve played quite a few big teams but probably the one most of the Celtic fans would like is Real Madrid. I’ve not played against them yet but we know anybody we get drawn against will be a top team and a big challenge for us.”
The Scotland international was speaking at an event to mark the launch of Celtic’s new book The Making of a Celtic Captain – the Callum McGregor story. As a product of the club’s youth system who has gone on to lift trophies and lead the team, he says it was rewarding to look back on his journey so far.
“It’s nice,” he said. “The club came and asked me to do it and it’s obviously a nice thing, recognising the career I’ve had up to now.
“I’ve enjoyed doing it. It forces you to look back a little bit and remember some of the things you’ve done in terms of your journey. It’s been a nice little look back to the past.
“There are probably quite a lot (of standout moments) when I look back but I think lifting the league trophy as captain for the first time is probably the standout.
“I’ve had some pretty good ones. I’ve been a really fortunate boy to have so many highs so far in my career but I think that one probably just pips the rest.”
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