REAL Madrid will be buoyant when they get their defence of the Champions League underway against Celtic at Parkhead tomorrow night.

Carlo Ancelotti’s men stretched their lead at the top of the La Liga table at the Bernabeu on Saturday when they recorded a 2-1 triumph over second-placed Real Betis thanks to goals from Vinicius Jnr and Rodrygo.

Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Co will be optimistic of extending their five match winning run in the East End of Glasgow. 

Celtic, though, are not exactly lacking in self-belief at the moment themselves following their 4-0 demolition of their city rivals and nearest challengers Rangers at home at the weekend.

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Ange Postecoglou’s charges have now prevailed in all seven of the games they have played in the 2022/23 season and are five points clear at the top of the cinch Premiership. They are in sensational form.

The stage is set for an epic European encounter at Parkhead. So what did we learn about the Scottish champions during their emphatic derby day victory? And can they overcome the superstars of Spain?

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BRING ON REAL!

Rangers were a shadow of the side that overcame Borussia Dortmund, Red Star Belgrade, Braga and RB Leipzig during their run to the Europa League final last season on Saturday. Defensively, they were porous, in midfield they were second best and up front they failed to trouble their hosts.

Real will have one of the greatest managers of all-time in the dugout tomorrow evening and many of the finest footballers on the planet on the park. It will be a step up for Celtic and then some. A draw would be a more than respectable result.

But why shouldn’t they dare to dream? They have scored 29 times and conceded just two goals this term. They have been well organised at the back, dominant in the centre of the park and on fire in the final third.  They will, too, be roared on by the majority of the 58,000-strong crowd from kick-off to the final whistle. 

Postecoglou has much to prove in continental competition. His side suffered some dire losses as they went out of the Champions League, Europa League and Conference League last season.  But he will have learned from those experiences. He has the knowledge and the personnel to pull off an upset.

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STRENGTH IN DEPTH

Not since Ally McCoist scored for Rangers after just 33 seconds of a derby game back in 1983 have Celtic suffered such a bad start in a meeting with the Ibrox club at Parkhead.

Kyogo Furuhashi, who had been on target six times in his previous four outings, limping off with a shoulder injury he suffered in the first minute following an innocuous challenge by John Lundstram was the last thing the home team needed.

The Japanese striker will certainly be missed if he fails to recover from the problem in time to play against Real.

But Giorgos Giakoumakis is by no means a downgrade. The Greek internationalist might not have found the target on Saturday. But he worked tirelessly and went close on several occasions. He is a more than adequate replacement.

As is Moritz Jenz at centre half. Carl Starfelt has formed a strong partnership with Cameron Carter-Vickers in the heart of the Celtic rearguard during his time in this country and is an automatic selection when fit. But his German understudy looked assured after coming on in the second-half.

Giakoumakis and Jenz will not weaken the home side in the slightest if they feature against Real.

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JOTA GENIUS

Celtic right winger Liel Abada picked up the Man of the Match award at the end of the 90 minutes. He scored two first-half goals and was a deserved recipient.

But Jota was no less impressive on the other flank. His strike in the 33rd minute was just sublime. He controlled a Matt O’Riley through ball with his left foot and then chipped over Jon McLaughlin from an acute angle with his right. It will be a strong contender for the Goal of the Season come May. 

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CRIKEY O’RILEY

David Turnbull was Celtic’s stand-out performer in their Premier Sports Cup win over Ross County in Dingwall last Wednesday night and was unlucky not to make the starting line-up against Rangers.

O’Riley, though, more than justified his selection in the playmaker role ahead of the Scot. He set up Abada for the opener with a first-time cross and created the second with an inch-perfect pass to Jota.

The London-born Dane, who was brought in for just £1.5m from MK Dons in January, has been quite a signing. Can he carve open the Real Madrid rearguard? Do not bet against it.

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REALITY CHECK 

Postecoglou was quick to dismiss the significance of the win over Rangers in the Scottish title race on Saturday afternoon despite the clear gulf in quality between the two sides. The Greek-Australian was correct not to get carried away.

His opposite number Giovanni van Bronckhorst had just one specialist centre-half available to him due to the absence of Ben Davies, Filip Helander and John Souttar and one fully fit striker in Antonio Colak. He was also missing the on-form Tom Lawrence.

The side that beat PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands in the Champions League play-off last month to secure a place in the group stages of Europe’s premier club competition can and will play better. Let’s face it, they can’t do any worse. Can they?

It is very difficult to see Celtic failing to retain their title after this one-sided rout. But there is an awfully long way to go and much that can happen.  

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