Celtic will sooner or later be crowned Scottish football champions for a seventh successive year and for the 49th time in their history.

I must admit that until fairly recently, I thought they would have it wrapped up by early April.

Now, in the light of recent results, it might be that the race goes on until after the split in one of the tighter chases seen in the last few years. Celtic fans needn’t really panic though. Tight, in this case, is all relative. 

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No one else is consistent enough currently to beat the Hoops to it. But the last few weeks have served as a fair warning to Celtic that nothing lasts forever.

In many ways, Brendan Rodgers‘ men are victims of their own success. When you win things at a canter, and make it all look ridiculously simple, you create problems for yourself when the going gets stickier.

Celtic‘s Premiership defeat away to Steve Clarke‘s reinvigorated Kilmarnock and their 0-0 draw at home against St Johnstone on Sunday certainly came against the grain of overall expectation. 

Was it a coincidence that points were dropped at a time when the Europa League began to dominate conversations, no doubt within and without the club’s HQ? Probably not.

The problem with the domestic story for Celtic is that it seems as old as the hills surrounding Lennoxtown. Zenit, and beating them as the Scottish champions did on merit last Thursday, is a far more compelling tale. If Celtic can finish the job in St Petersburg this week, it might have the effect of placing an even bigger strain on league and cup matters. I don’t think for one moment Celtic fans will mind, if it means another intriguing continental tie to contemplate.

I did think Brendan Rodgers, normally so cool and urbane, lost the head a bit after the draw with St Johnstone. OK, we know the Perth club have been on a bad run, but when they rise to the occasion and get a rare draw at Celtic Park, is that really the time to criticise their lack of fortitude in earlier games? 

Celtic, even with seven changes, know full well, they still ought to have too much for a team put together with altogether more limited resources. Sometimes, it’s better just to take your medicine, admit it wasn’t your day and praise the opposition for surpassing themselves. 

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To be fair to Rodgers, that is how he would normally sum things up. Tension can do things to even the best.

Based on what we saw last week, Celtic will be disappointed if they don’t eliminate Zenit. 

But European ties tend to have their own dynamics, no matter what we think we see in the initial home leg. I can’t for the life of me believe Zenit will be as bad, plus we must grant them the benefit of improvement having now had a competitive game under their belt, following the long winter break.

Celtic must go there and not make the mistake of sitting too deep. With a 1-0 first leg lead, they’ve earned the right to be cautious in Russia, but inviting the opposition on to you is rarely a recipe for victory over two legs. There must be just the right amount of threat at the other end, that plants the seed of doubt in Zenit minds.

It has taken a few years but Celtic supporters now seem to possess a healthy attitude towards the Europa League. These are games that can be won against opposition on a similar level to that of the Scottish champions. Lopsided games in the Champions League against PSG and Bayern might have their appeal in bringing big names to Celtic Park, but they long ago ceased to be a fair fight. As a pot 4 side, expectations have to be contained.

Thursday night in the Europa League will tell us a lot about Celtic’s development under a manager who has undoubtedly made the club better.