Celtic leave Monchengladbach with head held high

Celtic's Moussa Dembele celebrates his goal in Monchengladbach
Moussa Dembele scored Celtic's equaliser in Monchengladbach

Celtic leave Germany on Wednesday afternoon with their dignity intact - perhaps restored - after a performance and result that defied pre-match predictions of another away-day humbling in Europe.

Incredibly, this was only the fifth point they've brought home from their Champions League travels, with a win over Spartak Moscow and an unlikely draw in Barcelona their only other positive achievements in the competition on foreign soil.

The key for Brendan Rodgers is to ensure that this result acts as a catalyst towards more consistent success away from Celtic Park, which should help him achieve his ambition of turning Celtic into a team that regularly reaches the latter stages of Europe's elite tournament.

That is unlikely to happen this season, with their final away fixture of this campaign at the Etihad, where Manchester City inflicted Barcelona's first defeat in Group C on Tuesday night.

Any points from that match next month, or the one before it at home to Barcelona in three weeks' time, would be an even greater achievement than returning from Monchengladbach with a draw.

Rodgers believes his side were handed the toughest group possible and it is difficult to disagree.

Celtic's Scott Brown and Brendan Rodgers shake hands
Brendan Rodgers (right) was happy to see an improved Celtic performance

Even finishing third would have to be considered an impressive outcome and the chance of a run in the Europa League could be beneficial to Celtic as Rodgers seeks to improve them further.

Most observers of Scottish football have already agreed that a sixth league title is as good as wrapped up only a quarter of the way through the season.

That's not a sentiment you'll hear from anyone at Celtic, but Rodgers' squad looks strong enough to be able to handle any domestic challenge while also battling on the European front.

So the opportunity to test themselves against better opposition - albeit not the cream involved in the last 16 of the Champions League - is surely one they would relish.

Players like Moussa Dembele, Scott Sinclair and Jozo Simunovic will continue to cruise through domestic games, in which they are head and shoulders above most of their opponents.

But will they improve by doing that? Undoubtedly, Rodgers will be able to work with them and their teammates in training to add to their qualities, but playing against Manchester United, Ajax, Schalke and Zenit St Petersburg in the latter stages of the Europa League would certainly be more beneficial.

And who is to say Celtic couldn't remain in that tournament well into next year?

Sergio Aguero of Manchester City and Lionel Messi of Barcelona
Celtic have to beat either Manchester City or Barcelona to reach the Europa League

If Rodgers wants Celtic to become a "last-16 team" in Champions League terms, proving their mettle in the Europa League would be a good start.

However, this very much remains hypothetical with Borussia Monchengladbach still favourites to finish above them.

They too face Barcelona and Manchester City in their final matches, with City at home next up.

Celtic have to gain three points more than the Germans in order to pip them to that Europa League spot and, no matter how much progress they have made under Rodgers, that will be extremely difficult to achieve.

The Northern Irishman has been speaking about the project he has undertaken, looking two to three years into the future.

So, at the outset of that project, if Celtic can emerge from those final two games with dignity still intact, that will be a pretty good starting point.

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