Having suffered an opening day defeat for the first time in 24 years last weekend, Celtic’s quest to recover their Premiership title began in the same manner their continental campaign has gone thus far.
New manager Ange Postecoglou’s tough start to life at the Glasgow giants continued with a 2-1 loss to Hearts at Tynecastle on Saturday night, just days after his team exited the Champions League qualifying process at the hands of Danish champions Midtjylland after extra time.
As they now prepare to face Jablonec in the first leg of their Europa League qualifying clash on Thursday, the under-pressure Bhoys will be aware that defeat across the two legs would result in another ignominious demotion – this time to the unfancied Europa Conference League.
Needing to beat their Czech counterparts to secure a playoff with Eredivisie outfit AZ Alkmaar for a place in the Europa League group stages, should Postecoglou and company fail, their next European engagement will be versus either Tobol Kostanay of Kazakhstan or Slovakia’s Zilina in the third-tier tournament.
Previously crushed 6-2 by West Ham United in a pre-season friendly, recent events can have done nothing for a youthful team’s confidence, with their Australian head coach still searching for a first win since stepping into the dugout.
Certainly, Celtic’s struggles of last season have not diminished with time, as they found themselves defensively exposed on several occasions. Some belated new signings might help in that regard, but their freshly-arrived former Premier League stars may not be ready for this week’s first leg.
Therefore, the rearguard which has started this season so shakily will journey to Jablonec, where Thursday’s early kickoff sees the return of a full crowd to the hosts’ Stadion Strelnice, which has a capacity of just over 6,000.
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Shortly after defeating Dynamo Moscow in their final pre-season friendly last month, the modest Czech club – yet to be crowned national champions in their long history – started their domestic campaign with a 1-0 win over Banik Ostrava at their unassuming headquarters.
However, the side managed by Petr Rada were soundly beaten 3-0 away from home against Mlada Boleslav on Saturday – far from the ideal preparation for Celtic’s visit.
Though they finished 18 points behind unbeaten Czech champions Slavia Prague in 2020-21, Jablonec were among the top goalscorers in the league and ended the season just five points in arrears to the other major capital club, Sparta