Celtic travel to France on Wednesday to face Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League, an occasion that would usually be the highlight of the club’s week from both in terms of importance and competitiveness.
They’ll be going up against the likes of Neymar, who has already tearing up Ligue 1 with the French outfit after his record breaking move from Barcelona, and Edinson Cavani, who is outscoring everyone in Europe with 19 goals in all competitions.
Reason to be fearful?
Worry not Celtic fans, for this week only the bright lights of European football take a back seat, with a match on the horizon that puts the Hoops’ clash with PSG into a cold shadow. Their biggest threat this week is a lot closer to home, coming in the form of Motherwell and their talisman striker Louis Moult.
At this point in their European campaign Celtic only need worry about one scheduled match, the one against Anderlecht at Celtic Park on 5th December. Already out of contention to finish second in their Champions League group, it’s all about the race for third and whatever happens in Paris on Wednesday night, little changes their situation in that regard. Brendan Rodgers’ side are not expected to be competitive, the pressure is very much off and therefore all attention must turn to their League Cup Final clash with the Steelmen on Sunday.
Celtic have a treble to defend and an in-form Motherwell stand in their way. They visited Aberdeen at the weekend and managed to come away from Pittodrie with a 2-0 victory, something not many teams manage these days. Stephen Robinson’s side have been one of the surprise packages of the Scottish Premiership season so far and sit just two points behind Rangers in the league table. The Hoops cannot expect an easy match on Sunday nor be distracted by the high profile European clash.
While the likes of Neymar and Cavani have the ability to turn the Celtic defence inside on Wednesday night, Nir Bitton and Dedryck Boyata need only worry about Scotland’s stand-out striker this season, Louis Moult.
Moult has been tearing up Scottish football this term, scoring 14 goals and providing 3 assists in just 19 appearances. He was the man who scored the double to sink the Dons at the weekend, also netting twice in the quarter-final and the semi-final of this League Cup competition against Scotland’s second and third best sides. Moult is a big game player who will be eager to be the man who makes history and delivers Motherwell’s first major honour for over 26 years.
He has previous against the Hoops too. Last season he scored a double against Brendan Rodgers’ side at Fir Park in the 4-3 game that threatened to end Celtic’s unbeaten run before anyone really started talking about it. The season prior he also scored a double against Celtic, that time contributing to a 2-1 win at Celtic Park. He has the quality to get at their defence and this Sunday he has the proper motivation too. With the confidence and belief flowing through his game right now, who would put it past him to upset Celtic?
The suggestion of course is not that Celtic should rest players for the Paris Saint-Germain match, that’s potentially suicidal and not something they can afford to do. They need their absolute best eleven available to even get close to the Ligue 1 leaders. The likelihood is though, and even the most ardent of Celtic fans would confirm, that Unai Emery’s outfit are going to be far too strong for their visitors.
If the game is lost heading into the second half it would be prudent for Brendan Rodgers to prepare for Sunday’s clash, just as he would in a league match prior to a big European encounter. To overcome Motherwell they’ll need their star players playing at their peak and it’s no use tiring the likes of Moussa Dembele and Scott Brown if the three points are slipping away from them in Parc des Princes.
It’s easy to see Scottish football as secondary to their European ambitions but with tangible silverware on the line and the circumstances such that Wednesday’s match means little in a group context, Motherwell are undoubtedly the most important opponents this week for the club and supporters everywhere.