One of the debates that seems to have gone on all season is whether Celtic should prioritise the Scottish Premiership over the Europa League.
Sure, it has its merit. After all, the main goal this term is to win 10-in-a-row. That goes without saying, and Europe will, for this season alone, be the icing on the big domestic cake.
However, given the situation that Celtic now find themselves in, that debate can now come to an end. The reason? Neil Lennon simply can’t afford to prioritise any of them from now on – every single team he plays must be an extremely strong Celtic side.
That doesn’t mean he can’t make one, two, or even as many as three changes between games. But when he analyses the opposition, Lennon can’t afford to just give players an opportunity for the sake of it. He has to go into every game with the intention of winning.
Take Thursday’s clash against Sparta Prague in the Europa League for example. That comes just three days before the Hoops travel to Fir Park in a crucial Premiership match. So let’s paint the picture:
Lennon has just made five changes for the game on Thursday night. In comes Stephen Welsh, Ismaila Soro, David Turnbull, Greg Taylor, and Patryk Klimala. All of a sudden we’re struggling to click against Prague and end up losing the game 1-0.
Lennon would be under pressure again if he loses to Prague
There goes the momentum. Celtic’s Europa League campaign is all but over and the press (and the supporters may I add) are hounding Lennon for such a poor result and for underestimating Prague.
It’s easy to think you’re looking at the big picture by resting players for the domestic action. But the truth is the big picture is being taken into account when you think of the reaction to a defeat on Thursday night. And all of a sudden that pressure transfers over to the game at Fir Park on Sunday.
Now, would you rather Celtic went into the game vs Motherwell having played their full team on Thursday night and buzzing after a big win? Or would you rather go into it having lost to Prague and having a massive spotlight and pressure placed on the returning players to turn things around? The former is more enjoyable, and actually gives us a better chance of a result.
Lennon just isn’t in a position at the moment to start playing second-strings. We don’t have enough momentum going for us to be afforded that luxury.
All that matters at the moment is lifting morale. This is a squad that should be able to face Prague on Thursday and still go to Motherwell and do the business without making wholesale changes. I hate to compare us to that lot across the city, but they did the exact same thing against Lech Poznan and Kilmarnock last week.
If they can do it then so can we. Spare me the idea that Europe should be an afterthought. It’s still one of the most riveting aspects of our season, and should be treated with the respect it deserves given the momentum it can provide. Lille is just an example of how it can provide you with a domestic boost.
Hopefully, we see Celtic’s strength come to the fore with two powerful results over the next week.