Celtic's chances of escaping the Champions League group stage will be seriously damaged if they do not beat Benfica tonight but their manager Gordon Strachan is also looking at his side's progress over the longer term.
Strachan's young squad are bottom of Group D but are only three points off leaders Milan, whom they face in the San Siro in their final group game. With Celtic taking only one point from their previous 14 group games on the road, anything less than maximum points against the Portuguese side and Shakhtar Donetsk in Glasgow would leave them with an uphill struggle.
However, Strachan steered away from talk of must-win games. "You never know what is going to get you through but this is all part of the building, to get this squad as much experience as they can," he said. "It may not help them this season, it might help them next season, the season after and hopefully the season after that when this group can all stay together and learn. We want to win, that's the priority."
With Milan recently added to the scalps of Manchester United, Barcelona and Juventus at Parkhead, and with the memory of a 3-0 home win over Benfica last season, Celtic have a right to be confident in front of their own fans. And Strachan feels their form – despite recent losses against Rangers, Hearts and Benfica in Lisbon – offers more scope for optimism.
They retained their three point lead in the Premier League on Saturday with a 2-1 victory at Kilmarnock. Strachan said: "I think the air of confidence comes from the way we are feeling about ourselves – we are playing good football. It's good on the eye, it's winning football most of the time.
"The only time really this year we have disappointed ourselves and our fans was against Rangers."
Celtic are likely to be without Shunsuke Nakamura after Strachan admitted the Japan midfielder's chances of recovering from a knee injury were "not great". However, with the likes of Aiden McGeady on form, Strachan is confident Celtic will not lack a creative spark. He is also aware his opponents will pose a threat.
"We are playing against a good side, with good players, good pace, imagination, and playing against one of the legendary clubs in European football."
Celtic (from): Boruc, Caldwell, Naylor, Kennedy, McManus, Jarosik, Hartley, Scott Brown, McGeady, McDonald, Vennegoor of Hesselink, Nakamura, Mark Brown, Sno, O'Dea, O'Brien, Killen, Riordan.Reuse content