Competitive football? In July? For most teams this is the stuff of nightmares but even if Neil Lennon has had a moan about it, Celtic are getting used to this and the Bhoys’ first proper match of the season marks the start of what the Scottish champions will hope is another Champions League adventure.
Last season, the Glasgow giants began at the exact same point, but managed to go from the second qualifying round to the last 16 via a famous victory over Barcelona in the group stages as Lennon put all his eggs in the European basket.
It worked a treat as Celtic walked the SPL – they were always going to – but also did themselves proud in continental action and with little competition on the domestic front, and even if he is unhappy about not going straight into the group stages, Lennon will again be prioritising the Champions League.
And I don’t see opening opponents Cliftonville causing them many problems in tonight’s first leg.
The champions of Northern Ireland are building up to what has been described as their biggest match ever, but the odds tell you all you need to know about the gulf in class here.
Celtic are 1/5 to go back to Glasgow with a win, with the draw 19/4 and a home victory at 10/1, and even if that is on the short side, the Bhoys should be too good.
Cliftonville won the Irish league with 91 points and boasted a very strong home record – they won 18 of their 20 games – but Celtic showed last year that they are now adept at playing on the road in Europe after years of struggle and they will do the business tonight.
Lennon’s side beat HJK, Helsinborgs and Spartak Moscow on their travels last year – all stronger teams than Cliftonville – and they can prove their superiority.
All three of those wins saw Celtic score the opening goal in the first half, with Celtic leading at half-time twice.
Lennon knows the importance of a fast start and the 31/50 that Celtic are ahead at the break and go on to win is the bet.