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Monday, 10 December, 2018

Celtic have it tough with Bayern and PSG

Celtic celebrate a goal against Linfield in the second qualifying round
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Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich's sequence of at least reaching the Champions League semi-finals in five consecutive seasons was ended by last-eight foes Real Madrid but the German giants should be among the tournament front-runners once again this season.

Bayern remain dominant domestically, claiming a fifth straight Bundesliga crown in Carlo Ancelotti's debut campaign, but club legends such as Oliver Kahn have been queuing up to remind the Italian that his tenure will be judged on European matters.

In that regard Ancelotti is the right man. He has won the Champions League three times - the only manager to do so in the current format - and the club have backed him in the transfer market as they aim to replace retiring duo Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso.

Niklas Sule and Sebastian Rudy had fine seasons with Hoffenheim and the transfer record was broken to bring Lyon's dynamic midfield all-rounder Corentin Tolisso to Munich, while Ancelotti also persuaded the club's powerbrokers to sign the classy James Rodriguez on loan from Real Madrid.

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Group A

Group C

Group D

Paris St-Germain
The embarrassment of last season did not go down well in Qatar, the home of Paris St-Germain's filthy-rich owners.

If failing to justify odds of 1-10 in the Ligue 1 title race was bad enough - PSG finished behind 20-1 pokes Monaco - Unai Emery's men were humiliated in the Champions League last 16 as they blew a 4-0 first-leg advantage against Barcelona.

Their revenge on Barca was deadly as they smashed the world transfer record to land Neymar in a deal that rocked football, and then signed teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe from Monaco.

Europe's elite are fuming at an apparent disregard for Financial Fair Play rules (Uefa are investigating PSG) but the Qataris are giving a Dele Alli-style gesture to those questioning the maths.

Grabbing Dani Alves from Manchester City's clutches now looks small beer compared to their later dealings but Paris St-Germain clearly mean business and punters have been quick to back them.

Available at 20-1 when betting first opened, PSG are second-favourites in places which looks short enough.

It's usually tough for Anderlecht at Champions League level and in their last eight attempts at the group stage they have finished bottom seven times and third once.

Rene Weiler's side can be proud of their efforts from last season when they won the Belgian title after the convoluted playoff system as well as reaching the Europa League quarter-finals before losing a close tie to winners Manchester United.

However, keeping talent in Belgium is extremely difficult and, while they managed to retain Leander Dendoncker, star midfielder Youri Tielemans left for Monaco.

Sven Kums, who did well at Gent but less so at Udinese, has returned home to replace Tielemans, while in attack Lukasz Teodorczyk's successful loan spell has been made permanent.

Teodorczyk bagged 22 Division 1 goals last season, one fewer than Eupen's leading hitman Henry Onyekuru, who is now an Anderlecht teammate having signed on loan from Everton following a summer switch.

Qualification is a tall order but there's not much between them and Celtic for third.

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Group E

Group F

Group G

Group H

All Brendan Rodgers wants for Christmas is for Celtic to still be involved in European football and the draw has given the Bhoys a realistic aim of achieving that target.

That's not likely to come via the Champions League but the Europa League is a different matter and it's certainly no consolation prize north of the border as Rodgers looks for reasons other than domestic bliss to remain jolly in Glasgow.

There is not much left for Rodgers to achieve in Scotland. Celtic won the Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership without losing and went on to complete a domestic treble so the plan is to crack Europe.

Highly-rated young duo Kieran Tierney and Moussa Dembele have remained at Parkhead, while Patrick Roberts' loan spell from Manchester City has been extended and Oliver Ntcham arrived permanently from the Etihad.

Celtic eased past Linfield in the first qualifying round before seeing off better opposition in Rosenborg and Astana and under Rodgers they possess the tactical nous to nudge out Anderlecht for third.

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Under Rodgers Celtic possess the tactical nous to nudge out Anderlecht for third
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