Make your own history at the San Siro

Another week, another Thursday night Europa League match to look forward to. After a dramatic and pulsating ninety-plus minutes at Paradise last week, the honours are even.

It is anyone’s guess how tonight’s second leg encounter will turn out. What Celtic require though, is not completely out of the question.

If I felt Celtic had to be cautious going into last weeks match, then they must be vigilant this week. There are enough signs to suggest that this tie is far from over but lessons must also be learned from last week.

Italy isn’t a happy hunting ground for Celtic, having never won there. A 1-1 draw with Udinese in the group phase of the same competition back in 2011 is the best offering since a 0-0 against Inter Milan in a 1972 European Cup Semi-final, 1st leg.

The San Siro was the venue for that semi-final 1st leg. It remains an unlucky stadium for Celtic regardless of the opponents be it Inter, AC or even Feyenoord.

Does that mean Celtic will suffer a similar fate once more? Has history confined us to eternal misery in Milan?

Well to be fair, winning away from home is never an easy task in Europe anyway. Particularly when your opponents are Italian or of the Milan persuasion.

That doesn’t mean Ronny Deila’s Celtic side cannot write their own piece of history tonight. To make progress in Europe, you must overcome the hurdles that stand in your way.

Martin O’Neill put Celtic back on the European map by taking them into the Champions League group phase for their first, second and third time. And nobody needs reminding about the year we went to Seville.

Gordon Strachan took the club one step further by making the last 16 of the Champions League on two occasions. He did so with what many would say was an inferior team to his predecessors.

Under Neil Lennon, we have one of our most memorable encounters of the modern day by beating Barcelona at Celtic Park. Lennon also got Celtic’s only ever away win in the group phase that season as well as making the last 16 like Strachan.

The question is will we see Ronny Deila make this kind of leap forward this season? Maybe, maybe not but my gut feeling is that he doing all the right things to make it happen in the future for certain.

Celtic cannot compete with the top club transfer fees or the superstar salaries. What they can do is raise the level of expectation at the club.

As Ronny Deila said earlier in the season:

“if you see the fitness in the Champions League its unbelievable. Celtic is a big club, we want to go there. If we want to do that then we have to look outside the country, not inside.”

And by that, the Celtic head coach was talking about thinking outside the box and adopting top club methods. This is how you meet your opponent in Europe, by implementing the same standards of fitness, lifestyle and overall performance.

You bring any kind of player into a set up like that and you will soon learn if he has the ability to make it. Not only that, but it can attract a better candidate in the future.

Deila has seen his current players step up and meet the bar. It didn’t happen instantly, but he stuck to his plan when others were bashing him.

Now he has a squad of players that have all accepted that challenge and are willing to improve. That work must continue tonight as Celtic look to eliminate last weeks mistakes and take their chances.

If the Hoops can show the same determination and spirit at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza tonight as they did last week in Glasgow, they will be in with a fighting chance. Should the last 32 of the Europa Cup be Ronny’s last stop of this European campaign, its been a helluva a ride for the Celtic support but I remain optimistic.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Total football

It was a game to match the occasion. A meeting of two old foes from the old days of the European Cup.

Many years have passed since Lisbon, but the sentiment around that historic encounter had not. Both teams came out of the traps with intent and the fans roared from the stands.

It was anyone’s guess how this was all going to pan out. Mistakes and lapses of concentration would play a big part but how would it all end?

Celtic showed will early on, but Inter would draw blood first….and second. Then Celtic would come back….twice.

Watching from home as I was, the lounge carpet was worn out. Not to mention a lot of man hugging – strictly platonic, you understand.

The noise from the fans, one of the greatest gifts from the Celtic faithful, was heard once more. They did the players proud and those of us who could not make the trip or fortunate enough to get a ticket.

As for the men in the studio, it may as well have been a World War II propaganda film. Chris Sutton, once a fans favourite, now a media moron, took another swipe at the club he once donned the Hoops of.

In tandemn, you had Steve McManaman following his lead into negativity. There was no mention of the financial gap, difference in managerial experience or standard of player personnel at each club within their analysis of the match.

Not only did they fail to highlight these facts. They ignored that this Celtic team are a progressive one, advancing in the league and trying to build a reputation in Europe under new management.

Sutton’s view on Celtic these days baffles me. The only assumption I can make is that his stance is purely career driven.

McManaman, I have no opinion on really. It was clear he only had an interest in the mighty Liverpool’s blistering 1-0 home victory over Beskitas and Spurs’ fantastic 0-0 draw, both home matches I might add.

Let’s talk about some of those errors though. Craig Gordon gifted two opportunities to prowling Inter players and they were out of character for him.

To be fair to the keeper, the first error began with Denayer playing an awful ball to Matthews who was unable to deal with it. That led to a passage of play forcing a save out of Gordon.

With the initial shot already going wide it was frustrating to see him parry it to Shaqiri who didn’t waste the opportunity. The second error was typical of a “heads down/just your luck” moment.

Izaguirre’s attempted clearance smacked off van Dijk and Palacio pounced. Cruel, unlucky and somewhat deflating.

Then Celtic got a break and two quick goals. Armstrong latched onto a Matthews cutback, tucking it into the Inter goal and the second came courtesy of Armstrong’s pressure, forcing Campagnaro to bundle the ball into his own net.

The game was all square and Celtic were back in the tie. Justified I would say.

However, Palacio would have a further say and Gordon would make another error. What looked to be a good take or a palm off to the side turned out to be something in between.

That resulted in Inter taking the lead once more and Celtic receiving the sucker punch before half time. By which time I had already endured several bouts of emotional trauma.

As tame as the second half was, it produced the moment of the game. Having never been in front the entire match, the draw was the best we could hope for given our luck on the night.

Step forward John Guidetti. A player without a goal since November 30th.

More recently he has been noted for stalling on a permanent deal with Celtic than making the net bulge. He picked his moment to return to form and did so with a sublime finish.

Credit must also go to the pass played by fellow substitute Liam Henderson. The young player’s touch picked out the Swede perfectly and it was all square in the third minute of the six minutes that were added on.

It was almost as though it was written for Guidetti. And a goal to send Celtic supporters into delirium.

When you consider Inter went with the mandatory five man defence manoeuvre to protect their lead, you have to applaud Celtic for picking the lock. Mancini was within his rights to deploy his team this way but Deila’s players took up the challenge.

We often talk about clean sheets and not allowing the opposition an away goal. In reality, I’m pleased we got a draw though.

On last nights evidence, it won’t be impossible to win at the San Siro. Not because Inter are a poor side but because Celtic were unlucky to have lost the goals in such a manor.

Most importantly, Celtic scored goals of high quality. Credit is due to the craft and determination that helped Deila’s players carve out three goals.

If someone had said to me before the match that we were going to be 0-2 down after 15 minutes and 2-2 after 25 munutes I wouldn’t have believed a word of it. This was a game of real football played at maximum pace and I accept 3-3 as a good graft from the team.

The tie is alive and the second leg awaits us next week. There’s everything to play for.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Caution and confidence

This evening, European nights resume at Celtic Park. The match is a sell out and the fixture has just about every Celtic fan up to high doh.

Tonights opponents are none other than Inter Milan. The history between both clubs represents a symbolic peak in Celtic’s history.

In terms of European stature, Internazionale overshadow Celtic. Right now though they are not deemed to be at their best.

And that’s the problem because this perception that the current tenth placed Serie A club could be a pushover doesn’t sit well with me at all. As we have learned throughout the decades, the Italians are masters of mind games and well…gamesmanship.

To underestimate an Italian side would be nothing short of lunacy. Though there is a belief about Celtic right now that might just undo all of those Milano mind games.

Under Ronny Deila, Celtic have gone through some big changes behind the scenes. It hasn’t been plain sailing and not all have been on board from the beginning but the squad have knuckled down and the ship is on course.

Now we are beginning to see a different team to the one that embarked upon this European campaign way back in July 2014. This was something that Ronny himself said from day one and we’ve seen the evidence in the last few months.

The most interesting development has been the flow to the Celtic side lately. A higher tempo has become more apparent and the team are playing with more confidence.

These achievements have been displayed predominantly within the domestic game. However, Celtic’s current form remains unmeasured in European football.

When it comes to European matches it is a different offering altogether. And yet Celtic are in the last 32 regardless.

There is no doubt that Celtic have progressed from one end of the season to now. So for me, this will be a test to see just how far Ronny and his players have come.

Inter Milan may be 22 points of the top of Serie A but you can be sure that they will be up to the task. It would be naive to suggest otherwise.

You can expect some play acting from the opposition and some poor decisions from referees when it comes to European nights. Its all part of the mixture that comes with this type of fixture.

Regardless, Celtic must focus on their own game. I would apply caution going into this tie but I’m encouraged by the positivity about Celtic.

With the recent additions of Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven, the ability and depth in Deila’s squad has increased. That isn’t even taking into account the recent surge in form of Leigh Griffiths and Kris Commons.

Then there’s the growing presence of Stefan Johansen and Nir Bitton’s stabilising job in the midfield. These have all been valuable contributions to the cause.

Back when Celtic were competing in the group phase of the Europa League, it was frustrating that the then in form John Guidetti was ineligible for the competition. Now, he wouldn’t even be my first choice striker.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m glad he is available but he needs to find those shooting boots again. As does his counterpart, Stefan Scepovic.

I think most would agree that it is a good time to face Inter. With all the historic value and the fact Celtic are playing and old foe, the game will attract a lot of attention.

Whatever result comes from tonights match you can be sure the fans will do us proud. Ronny Deila may have seen a European night at Celtic Park this season but he ain’t seen nothing yet.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

All aboard the Deila bus?

The finish line is still a long way off and nothing has been won but isn’t it just a wee bit exciting? I’m not talking about beating Mk II Rangers (or their exit from another cup competition yesterday), I’m looking at the bigger picture.

Neil Lennon announced his departed from Celtic Football Club in May 2014. In the space of about two weeks his successor was announced and by Celtic standards that is pretty quick.

Ronny Delia was by no means a household name, as many of my non-Celtic supporting associates cared to mention at the time. With the speed at which he was installed though, suggests Celtic had already done their homework.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t know who Ronny was but in the modern day it doesn’t take long to find out someone’s background. Because you don’t know of someone though doesn’t mean they have nothing to offer and having read his résumé, I quickly began to like what this guy had to offer.

Even for Celtic this was a left field move but I like to think that despite how much some of our fans despise the people that the board consist of, we are progressing in the modern day. There was no preventing the cutting opinions or negative sentiments toward Deila in his early days of the current season.

To be quite frank, I had decided that I was going to reserve judgement until Christmas and had allowed some time to bed in. Change takes place over a long period of time and I was prepared to give him that.

Celtic had some harsh lessons at the beginning of the season. Europe was a mean testing ground for Ronny Deila and one which he was expected to emulate the highs of his predecessors.

With that in mind and the pressure of Champions League qualification it was no surprise that when you have fans with that level of expectation they were bound to be unhappy when Celtic exited the tournament in such disappointing fashion. Though the Europa League would be Ronny Deila’s saviour and an ideal way of testing his and his players own development.

Even without the growing domestic presence of John Guidetti available for Europe and a long list of injuries to squad players, Celtic carved out a respectable group phase. It could have been a lot better with more time served but Deila has made it to the last 32.

Given that Celtic were marching on in all three domestic competitions, Europe was a Brucey Bonus. Like I said, nothing has been won but surely Ronny is on the right tracks?

When you consider that a large portion of Celtic supporters were calling for the Norwegians head as early as September he has taken a group of players barely of his own making and made them challengers in four competitions in his first season. In my opinion that’s bloody marvellous when you look back on what some of our short sighted brethren have been bleating about all season.

Deila has added one or two players to his squad but he has been tasked with shaping his predecessors troops. He was was slated for enforcing lifestyle changes and setting the raising the bar to 24 hour athlete level.

That’s a huge change and one which I welcome but it does take time. And Deila wasn’t wrong when he said this was how top clubs operated.

If Celtic want to challenge at the highest level yet work within their financial means, then this is the way to do it. Setting the standard now will benefit the club in the years ahead.

My most common quote of the season has to be “even Mowbray got until March”. Mowbray’s auto-endorsement into the Celtic faithful was the undoing of the boards collective short-sightedness by appointing him in the first place and it pleases me little that only few saw his downfall before a ball was kicked.

So when a guy like Deila with modern methods in the modern day gets the nod it implies a that a degree of research has taken place. It was well documented by our ever so insightful media that Ronny was not first choice but I think he has been a good choice and certainly better than some of the contenders mentioned at the time.

Other than Barnes and Mowbray Celtic have made good managerial appointments for the last 20 years. They all had their ups and downs but were right for the time.

Tommy Burns, Wim Jansen, Jozef Venglos, Martin O’Neill, Gordon Strachan and Neil Lennon have all etched their mark in the clubs history by winning trophies or signing players instrumental in the success of Celtic. I suppose I should give some credit to Barnes for signing Stiliyan Petrov but in reality he played him well out of position in formation barely recognisable on any continent.

So what will Ronny’s legacy be? A first season treble or a even Europa League Final?

That remains to be seen but is everyone done with their bleating? Are we all on board the Deila bus?

The players are for sure and they are responding to the standards being set. Perhaps that will be Ronny Deila’s legacy.

Two of Dundee United’s best players are now on the Celtic books. Both look to be good acquisitions for the squad and in addition to this an extended contract for Kris Commons at long last.

Players like Commons and Griffiths are the perfect example of adherence. The team have moved up a gear and they are recent examples of that.

Another bonus is the fact that Celtic haven’t lost anyone other than Beram Kayal. His time at the club had expired and I am pleased for him and that he has a chance to restart his career.

There may be a few summer departures but for now, everyone remains a Celtic player. There is a four-pronged campaign going on don’t you know?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Destiny awaits

Today sees the return of two fierce rivals at Hampden Park, Glasgow. I am of course talking about Celtic fans and Rangers fans.

Both sets of supporters will take up their old places in the stadium. The teams being supported meet for the very first time though.

Articles and blogs have been populated with this fixture ever since the draw was made for the Scottish League Cup sem finals. The media continue to perpetuate the lie that the club Celtic face on this afternoon is the same one they faced for over one hundred years.

As I said in my last post, you are never going to change the opinions of others. People believe what they want to believe but credit to those who aim to set the record straight.

Just as my fellow bloggers have done, we can lay down the facts around the the truth about Rangers. As one half of the divide though, we will struggle to convince anyone who is neutral because we are in direct opposition to the other half.

That is all that people see and that is your problem right there. Despite the media initially reporting the death of Rangers in 2012, they are now fully paid up members of the Rangers are alive and kicking club.

Sound familiar? Well Sir David ‘Moonbeams’ Murray had the media in his back pocket for the entirety of his reign at Rangers 1872. Rangers 2012 have now managed to convince the Scottish media, the SFA and the SPFL that it is the same club.

In reality, the only ones who believe this is the same club are the deluded fans who need someone to follow, follow. The media toe the line along with the muppets at Hampden.

Celtic also play their cards close to their chest. By doing so, they keep the peace.

The sad reality here is that Scottish football has once more gone backwards. Every time an opportunity arises to change the shape of our ailing sport, the powers within the game make a patchwork effort in healing Scottish football.

Everything was done to get Rangers 2012 into the top flight of Scottish football as soon as humanly possible. Only the integrity of the majority of Scottish clubs prevented that from happening.

It didn’t prevent the SPFL/SFA from reforming the structure and adding play-offs though. With the Ibrox club having no chance of winning the Scottish Championship this season, they have a life line in the play-offs with thanks to SPFL/SFA.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the play-offs are a good thing, as it has been in England. The timing of these changes is very convenient for Rangers 2012 though.

So it is up to Celtic to lay to rest this Ibrox team’s efforts in the league cup. Celtic are expected to win but that isn’t how football works.

The Hampden surface is in a terrible state and that will help level the playing field today. Add to that that we’re the biggest team Rangers 2012 have ever faced in their competitive history and there is plenty of motivation for them.

As former Celtic coach Kenny McDowall said:

“We are under major pressure to perform and it’s up to us to prove, if you can work, like Bradford and Middlesbrough did at the weekend, you can upset the favourites.”

Well, it is a cup game and it is not impossible. The only upset I want to see though is that continued upset look on McDowall’s face.

Ronny Deila is new to this level of tension in a fixture. It can get to you but he has plenty of experience around him from head to heads with the old club in guys like John Collins and John Kennedy.

On the field if play he hss more than enough experience and influence to see off the opposition. Gordon, Zaluska, Matthews, Izaguirre, Mulgrew, Brown, Commons, Forrest, Griffiths and Stokes have all played against the old club though not all will play today.

Mulgrew is injured so the rest comes down to starting lineup and substitutions. There are a whole host of options open to Deila for this one though.

My favoured lineup would be:

Gordon, Matthews, Izaguirre, Denayer, van Dijk, Brown, Johansen, Commons, Bitton, Stokes and Griffiths.

Lustig, Forrest and Guidetti as potential substitutes.

The pitch may be a mess, but there can be no mistakes from Celtic today. A date with Dundee United awaits.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie