Celtic's new era of European football under Ange Postecoglou gets underway on Tuesday, as Danish side FC Midtjylland pay a visit to Parkhead for the first leg of their Champions League second qualifying round tie.
Neither side warmed up for this encounter in ideal fashion, as the Bhoys suffered a 1-0 friendly defeat to Preston North End while Midtjylland opened their league campaign with a 2-1 defeat to Odense Boldklub.
Celtic fans - albeit only 2000 of them - had waited 16 months to be welcomed back to Parkhead as coronavirus restrictions ease, but a miserable day for Bhoys supporters and sportsmen saw Preston claim a 1-0 win during Postecoglou's first home game in charge.
Benjamin Whiteman's penalty in the 64th minute was all that separated the two sides on Saturday, and Postecoglou pulled no punches after the final whistle, claiming that Celtic "need to bring players in" as they seek to dethrone Rangers at the first time of asking.
The Bhoys have mostly had things their way on the road in pre-season, though - beating Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton Athletic in Wales before playing out a goalless stalemate with Bristol City - but the toughest test of their pre-season lies in wait as West Ham United visit Celtic Park on July 24.
Injuries and quarantine measures have hardly helped Postecoglou's cause so early on in his Celtic reign - with new signing Kyogo Furuhashi waiting a little while longer to link up with his teammates - although Liel Abada's introduction off the bench at the weekend was a sight for sore eyes.
Not since the 2017-18 season have Celtic managed to progress as far as the Champions League group stages - falling at the second round of qualifying to Ferencvaros last year - but they can take solace in the fact that Midtjylland also prepare for continental competition on the back of a demoralising defeat.
Danish Superliga runners-up Midtjylland had the pleasure of kicking off the 2021-22 season on Friday against Odense Boldklub - the side who languished to an eighth-placed finish last term - but the game did not quite go according to the script.
OB's Bashkim Kadrii broke the deadlock with 15 minutes on the clock before Pione Sisto restored parity for Midtjylland just before the hour mark, but in the 91st minute of the encounter, OB left-back Jorgen Skjelvik saw his corner evade everyone and loop into the back of the net over Jonas Lossl.
New manager Bo Henriksen could hardly have suffered a more dampening start to life in the Midtjylland dugout, but focus has quickly turned to the Champions League for the ex-Kidderminster Harriers frontman, who has labelled his side "underdogs" for Tuesday's game.
Whether Henriksen's comments are a simple case of mind games remains to be seen, but Midtjylland are a side who know how to compete with the continent's finest having managed to claim draws against Liverpool and Atalanta BC in last year's group stage.
The Danish's side only previous trip to Scotland ended in a 3-1 defeat to Rangers during 2019-20 Europa League Qualifying, but they are yet to step out under the bright lights of Celtic Park, where a larger crowd of 9,000 fans will take their seats for another Champions League adventure.
Celtic goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas recovered from a hand problem rapidly to take to the field against Preston, but defenders Christopher Jullien and Kristoffer Ajer remain absent, although the latter is expected to complete a move to Brentford and has been left out of the club's Champions League squad.
Tom Rogic and Odsonne Edouard were fit enough for 30-minute cameos at the weekend and could be reinstated to the first XI here, but Karamoko Dembele and Mikey Johnston are working their way back from injuries sustained against Bristol City.
James Forrest is returning from a self-isolation period and is unlikely to get up to speed in time for the first leg, but the trio of Nir Bitton, Ismaila Soro and Ryan Christie all have strong chances of returning.
New arrivals Furuhashi and Abada have also been left out of the Bhoys' European setup alongside Olivier Ntcham, who like Ajer is being heavily linked with an exit.
Charles or Victor Torp could battle it out for the final midfield spot should Madsen miss out, and captain Erik Sviatchenko returns to Glasgow after making 63 appearances for Celtic between 2016 and 2018.
Celtic possible starting lineup:
Barkas; Ralston, Bitton, Welsh, Taylor; McGregor, Soro, Turnbull; Rogic, Edouard, Christie
FC Midtjylland possible starting lineup:
Lossl; Dalsgaard, Sviatchenko, Hoegh, Paulinho; Onyedika, Madsen, Evander; Dreyer, Brumado, Sisto
We say: Celtic 1-1 FC Midtjylland
Neither Celtic nor Midtjylland will be brimming with confidence before the first ball is kicked on Tuesday, and a cagey affair may be in store as both sides prepare to meet for the very first time.
The Bhoys have some of their experienced pros returning to fitness at just the right time, but the visitors are not to be underestimated in any circumstances, and we can see the first leg finishing all square to leave everything to play for in Denmark next week.
body check tags ::