Glamour tie or winnable fixture? Exotic location or ‘Battle of Britain’? Thursday’s Champions League group stage draw will reveal what Celtic can look forward to over the next few months.
With the qualifying rounds complete, the identity of all 32 competing teams is known and UEFA will hold the draw at their annual ceremony at Grimaldi Forum in Monaco on Thursday at 5pm UK time.
Celtic suffered disappointment in the group stage last season, with the Scottish champions only taking two points from a group that pitted them against Real Madrid, RB Leipzig and Shakhtar Donetsk.
This time around, under Brendan Rodgers, the team are hoping for a much better showing and the identity of the three teams they are drawn to face could make a huge difference to their chances of success.
At the draw, the 32 teams will be split into eight groups of four. Before the draw, four seeding pots are confirmed, with one from each pot going into a group. Teams from the same country can’t face each other in the group stage and UEFA will announce any other restrictions before the ceremony begins.
As a Pot 4 side, Celtic will be facing three opponents who are, on paper at least, considered stronger. But within each seeding pot there’s a variety to the tests on offer.
So who lies in wait for Celtic captain Callum McGregor and his team-mates?
Even within the elite competition, there’s a prestige group and this is where most of the big hitters are. Current English and European champions top the list, with Pep Guardiola’s side one that most would be keen to avoid.
Europa League winner Sevilla also take a place in the top section, with the remaining eight place filled by the winners of the continent’s top leagues.
Barcelona are in Pot 1 after taking the Spanish title, while Napoli‘s first Scudetto since the days of Maradona puts them in the top tier.
Bayern Munich, with new signing Harry Kane already scoring goals, are in the pot, along with French champions PSG and Portuguese winners Benfica.
Manchester City’s clean sweep of trophies last season means the champions of the seventh-ranked nation moves up a pot, ushering Feyenoord into the pack.
From the second pot down, the teams are ranked by club coefficient, and even without league titles, this tier has big hitters.
If ever there was an example of how difficult the Champions League has become for those outside the big associations, this is it: Real Madrid, who reached the semi-finals of the competition in two of the last three years and won it in the other, are among the second seeds.
English Premier League duo Manchester United and Arsenal are among the potential opponents from the second tier, and avoiding them still means the possibility of facing Inter Milan or Borussia Dortmund.
Real’s city rivals Atletico Madrid are in the same section, and RB Leipzig and Porto complete the eight-team pot.
If Celtic are to achieve their ambition of European football after Christmas, whether in the Champions League or as the third-placed side that drops into the Europa League, the likelihood is that they will have to get the better of the Pot 3 side in their group.
While not packed with European giants, there are still some big names lying in wait, and even those who don’t have the glamour still have the pedigree to make them dangerous opponents.
Serie A duo Milan and Lazio stand out as the biggest draws, but Celtic’s opponents in last year’s competition Shakhtar Donetsk have the highest club coefficient in the pot.
Shakhtar are closely followed by Red Bull Salzburg, while Portuguese outfit Braga have become mainstays of European competition over the last decade or so.
Red Star Belgrade and Copenhagen offer tough tasks but might be teams that Celtic would favour facing, while PSV Eindhoven would be intriguing opposition after their 7-3 play-off win over Rangers.
So what are the best and worst draws?
Everyone will have their own ideas about the strongest sides are and what opposition Celtic might be suited to, but even so there are some potential draws that stick out as being more unkind than others.
The fact that teams from the same association can’t be drawn against each other, paired with the fact that side from the top 5 tend to sit further up in the draw, means Celtic could find themselves in elite company by the end of Thursday night.
Probably the toughest draw would be Manchester City, Real Madrid and Milan. Or as an alternative where points might be hard to imagine, Barcelona, Arsenal and Lazio is another possibility.
Optimists might think it’s possible to avoid a ‘Group of Death’ and it is. There are no easy games but Celtic could be pitted against Feyenoord, Porto and Copenhagen and start setting their ambitions accordingly.
When does the draw take place?
The draw takes place at 5pm UK time as part of an elaborate UEFA ceremony that includes awards for last season.
As soon as Celtic know who they’ll be playing, you can read about it right here on STV News.
When do the games take place?
Celtic fans won’t have to wait too long for the action to start. Matchday 1 is on September 19/20.
There are two game weeks in October (3/4 and 24/25) and two in November (7/8 and 28/29) with the group stage wrapping up on December 12/13.