Last stop…Barcelona

Firstly I would like to say how shocked I was to hear about Paul McConville passing away on Tuesday. At the age of 47, it is a very young age to be taken from this world.

Paul’s “Random Thoughts Re Scots Law” blog provided readers such as myself with insight to subjects I wouldn’t know where to start with. He allowed us to step into his mind and furnish us with his knowledge.

I urge those of you who have never read his blog to take a look today. There is no doubt in my mind that you will find something of interest among the archives.

And so to Tuesday’s Champions League disappointment…

…Neil Lennon saw the end to this season’s European dream as Celtic fell to a 3-0 defeat at home. It was a poor score and a poor show on home soil.

No one can argue that the spine of Celtic has been somewhat weakened since the summer. The squad has seen additions, but influential players in key positions have not been unearthed.

Celtic’s midfield is a shadow of its former self. The missing influence and presence of Wanyama is so vast, not even an unsuspended Scott Brown can carry the burden alone.

Don’t misunderstand me though, Celtic have missed Scott Brown. Had he been on the park for the last three European matches, this trip to Barcelona might still have some meaning.

One big concern for Neil Lennon though must be his toothless attack. Gary Hooper was prolific for Celtic and nobody denied him the chance to move on, but he has not been replaced nor is it impossible to find a player who can do a similar job.

When you look at Celtic’s performance in the San Siro on Matchday One, there was evidence that this could have been a better campaign. Yet, there has been no improvement since that match.

After losing that match back in September I was convinced that Celtic would have the taking of Milan at Celtic Park. I was also of the opinion that beating Ajax at home and getting something away was more than achievable.

As it turns out I was totally wrong. Even against the backdrop of a so far unbeaten league campaign, the squad lack vitality.

The never say die attitude of Celtic that brought two late goals against Aberdeen at the weekend seemed like it might be a catalyst to victory on Tuesday. That all changed the minute we gave away a cheap goal.

Those who started the season strong have struggled to carry the team forward or indeed inspire. Injury or form has been a thorn in Neil Lennon’s side but the team has not reached the heights we all wanted either

Stokes, a man who can often show some real genius kicked off well this season but he has faded into obscurity. Pukki, yet to add to his two goals shortly after arriving, should have kicked on from that there, but he hasn’t.

Samaras, always our man in Europe has looked all at sea for much of this Champions League journey. He hasn’t always had the luck either but truthfully speaking he’s either been in the game on his own or not in it at all.

Boerrigter spurned and early chance on Tuesday after netting Saturdays winner but wasn’t in the game for large periods of play. On the other flank, Forrest was marked fairly well but he still worked his trousers off (sorry I couldn’t resist).

Mulgrew gave the ball away too often in the midfield and Kayal’s early exit does not earn him a review for this match, though he did have a very good chance to score before going off injured. When Ledley appeared, he offered more presence, but the fact remains that this Celtic midfield is a deeply fragmented one.

No cohesion, no communication and no real influence. I struggle to see who is in command on the park at times.

Even Tuesday night’s bright start by Kris Commons was lost as soon as Celtic went 1-0 down. The midfield-attack role he provides is vital when you consider how poor striking options are for Lennon.

After conceding the first of three poor goals the crowd fell silent and so to did the Celtic players. The game plan was blown.

Use of the wide areas didn’t work, perhaps because of losing that goal but I wasn’t convinced it was the right way to go anway. In my opinion this was a match where the game plan had changed too much.

Boerrigter should never had started, Samaras should never have played up front and Ledley should have been on from the beginning. Instead we saw a new set up in a key match which in the end came to a grinding halt.

I’m not going to heap blame on the defence because they have been the steadiest part of the team this season. The defensive errors have come because of poor marking overall, a weak midfield and an attack that does not penetrate or threaten the opposition sufficiently and that all puts pressure on our defence.

It’s been a humbling end to a campaign that could have been so much better. It was always going to be hard to beat Barcelona again, but Milan and Ajax were nothing special.

Next months visit to Camp Nou will now be nothing more than a pre-Christmas city break. I suppose there are worse places you could officially end your European campaign.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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