Hangover at Hampden

On Sunday afternoon I watched Celtic take on the new Rangers for the fourth time in Scottish football history. It was the third meeting between the two clubs in domestic cup competitions, of which all have been semi finals at Hampden.

Having lost their first ever league clash against Celtic in September significantly, Mark Warburton was planning for damage limitation. Celtic on the other hand were looking to bounce back from a home defeat in the Champions League. 

Each club is experiencing very different fortunes right now. The importance of this game was high but perhaps not as even as the Scottish media made out.

For starters, this Rangers side are still way off the pace of where their friends in the press will tell you they are. Not only that, off the field they remain an absolute disaster, not that you’ll read about it.

Celtic on the other hand have the kind of problems other Scottish teams can only dream of. Playing in Europe is one of them, who to spend a few million on might be another. 

Despite Celtic’s dominance at Hampden they lacked a cutting edge and a bit of luck. We can talk about Craig Thomson’s refereeing and diabolical decisions but I’d really rather not – I don’t have the time or energy today. 

On a good Sunday this should have been 3, 4 or 5-0 to Celtic. They were hardly troubled whilst at the same time not as effective as they have been this season. 

European hangover? Most likely, but it’s still a cup competition and it crossed my mind a couple of times during the match if Celtic might just blow it. 

Thankfully they didn’t. Leigh Griffiths’ effervescence was instrumental in the second half and he assisted Moussa Dembele with the winner.

There were notable performances from few but Matt Gilks kept his team in it for a while only to be outdone by Dembele’s nutmeg. I’ll save my main praise for Scott Brown who didn’t stop passing, running and tackling like a true captain.

So the final will be contested between Scotland’s two best clubs. Should be interesting. 

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac 

Climate control

It was a game I felt Celtic could win. In the end it was a game that Celtic never really turned up for.

I watched the match, the post match interviews, listened to the post match analysis and took in all of the viewpoints. I didn’t disagree with much of it at all.

Borussia Mönchengladbach, despite the loss of several first team players through injury, were the stronger team by far for the entire match. This disappointed and frustrated me immensely.

After going for the jugular against Manchester City, I expected more of the same from Celtic against the Germans. But Germans being Germans they outclassed Celtic in every area of the park with efficiency.

This wasn’t a thumping. This was more of a lesson in better use of the ball, movement and positioning.

Celtic played like the away side all night with the supporters the only element that suggested otherwise. The Germans strolled through Celtic Park like it was a walk in the Rhineland.

Personally, I wasn’t under any illusions about the gap between our two nations and their top flight football leagues. However, I thought I had seen enough so far from Celtic this season to get a result on Wednesday night.

Brendan Rodgers summed it up simply by saying “they were better than us”. He wasn’t wrong either and even he pointed out that that is the level Celtic must aspire to.

I’m fairly certain in time, Celtic will be playing at a better level under Brendan Rodgers. In fact they already are, but we are still off the pace for the Champions League.

Improvement will come at a cost and will need to be done within budget. Playing in Scotland does not help that situation, particularly when many clubs lack the financial input to get near Celtic.

Celtic are a big club in a small pond. I have no doubts that in a bigger pond, Celtic would be able to cut it.

Many outside of Scotland disagree because they base their decision upon how they see Scottish football. What these people fo not realise is that Celtic have the fan base, stadium, marketing and anything else you care to mention that in a wealthier climate would do very, very well.

Scotland is not that climate. I don’t believe that Scotland will ever be that climate either.

My home country can aspire to many things, but when it comes to football it is a marshy landscape. So for Celtic, they must do all they can to survive in Scotland’s financial climate whilst flying the flag in Europe until a solution can be found.

Right now, Brendan Rodgers will be seeing the club through the rest of this group stage and assessing what he needs to improve upon that. Whatever is available he will get, but we will have to wait and see if it is enough.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie mac

All I ask is for three points…

Tonight’s opponents at Celtic Park are none other than German Bundesliga side, Borussia Mönchengladbach. They need their first points and they will be determined to get something at Celtic Park as it is less likely they will manage it at any other away ground.

The trouble is, Brendan Rodgers demands a win for Celtic tonight and going by our outing against Manchester City, I think Celtic can do it. I’m not looking at ‘Gladbach’s injury woes, I’m focussing on Celtic’s ability.

The ability to attack and score goals. Everybody in the squad is desperate to play right now so there is no shortage of effort, motivation or options – players are queuing up.

Whatever Brendan Rodgers is doing right now it is working. I’m enjoying things at Celtic so much right now I’d play for the guy as well!

To be inside Celtic Park tonight would be amazing, but I’ll be watching from the edge of my sofa a mere 400 miles away. So let’s open up a gap tonight Bhoys and get our Champions League dream on course.

That’s all. Enjoy the match!

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Good to be Gladbach

After a dismal international break, it was good to good to see Celtic back at the weekend. They warmed up for Wednesday night with a very comfortable 2-0 win over Motherwell at Celtic Park.

There could have been a glut of goals in that match with both the Motherwell goalkeeper and metal work doing their job of keeping the ball out. With many players playing/training with their respective countries and others in the international wilderness, I think this was ideal preparation.

Wednesday night will be a full on event so. Borussia Mönchengladbach are the visitors and Celtic Park will be rocking.

You can expect a non-stop 90+ minutes with the fans in full voice. For that reason alone, Celtic will need to be at their fittest and best.

Home advantage is a huge bonus, but this fixture will require everything to get that all important result. Brendan Rodgers is looking for his first Champions League victory in Group C.

A win would see Celtic remain in 3rd place in the group phase at this current stage. It would also put the Hoops in a position of strength at the half way point.

Points do not come easy in the Champions League. I think all Celtic supporters would agree that finishing in third is the best we can hope for given the strength of the opposition.

To do that, Celtic must ensure they are better than Mönchengladbach over the next two games. A win at Celtic Park and a draw at Borussia-Park would go a long way to helping Celtic so long as Mönchengladbach don’t find more than a couple of points in their remaining two matches.

At this stage though, it is in Celtic’s hands. Brendan Rodgers has got this Celtic team playing at a very good standard and there is more to come.

He was disappointed at drawing with Manchester City on matchday two of Group C. I can understand that disappointment given his determination to take Celtic places and coming so close.

As a fan though, watching this Celtic fade for several seasons, I was pretty pleased at being able to hold such a wealthy team to a high scoring draw. Not only that, they have one of the finest managers in the game today.

Tomorrow night, Brendan will have the opportunity to take that first three points. On paper it is Celtic’s best opportunity but there should be no complacency either.

We’ve witnessed some fantastic football under Brendan Rodgers. New players finding some of the best form of their careers so far and established players rediscovering their abilities under the new manager.

Celtic CAN beat Mönchengladbach tomorrow night. Equally, the Bundesliga side WILL be determined to get their first points in Group C.

On the domestic front, Celtic and Mönchengladbach are experiencing different fortunes at this point in the season. You can argue that the Bundesliga is a far superior league to the Scottish Premiership therefore the achievements are of a higher standard.

To be honest, that is generally the case when it comes to European football for Celtic. The Scottish game is an embarrassment at best and yet Celtic can still cut it with most teams out there.

At this stage in the season, this is how both teams compare in their respective leagues:

new-microsoft-excel-worksheet

 

 

We can debate about the gulf between the Bundesliga and Scottish Premiership, but this is not news to Celtic. The Hoops may be able to outspend any other club in Scotland but they mus also live within their means.

That includes putting an affordable team out on the park that can compete in Europe without spending the money of the elite clubs across Europe. It’s a tough balance and at times Celtic have reeled things in financially or made bad moves which have in turn made the club suffer on the continent.

Now though, there is enough evidence to show that Celtic are making progress once more. It’s been missing for a long time.

On Wednesday night there is a golden opportunity to put on a display and demonstrate our credentials in this group. As a player or a manager you don’t need much more motivation than that.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

No slips-ups in Slovakia

Tonight, Gordon Strachan must get the World Cup qualifying campaign back on track in Slovakia. The draw on Saturday at home to Lithuania hampered Scotland’s qualification chances.

Whether Gordon is still up for the challenge anymore or not doesn’t matter. He is the man charged with getting Scotland to Russia in 2018.

This is the second campaign he has begun after picking up the remnants of a disastrous one from Craig Levein in 2013. If he fails in this quest, I don’t imagine he will stick around for another shot.

Despite my conviction that Strachan was the right choice, he may not have the same desire next time. That may all hinge of course on whether he qualify’s for Russia or not.

He would just have to qualify for Russia though. I think he would need to have a good tournament to convince himself of another, but that’s just my opinion.

The Euro 2016 faltered towards the end after a bright start. This one hasn’t started as well as it could have though there is a long way to go yet.

Right now he has to grab this qualifying campaign by the scruff of the neck and step it up. This is Scotland’s last chance to qualify for a tournament under his charge in my view so he might as well just go for it.

After Strachan I’m not sure who the SFA would be looking at. That is another discussion for another time.

So it is time to put out Scotland’s best combination of players that will get a result. A win in Slovakia would lay to rest that poor result at Hampden, a draw would be better than a loss but that’s it.

I’ll prepare myself for the worst though. Just in case.

Stevie Mac

Scotland the brave?

On Saturday night I sat down and watched the Scotland v Lithuania game on TV. Once again I put myself through the kind of torture that can only mirror what it’s like to follow a lower league club.

That hopeless desire that one day you might just experience something wonderful with that inevitability that you never will. In that respect, Scotland are a lower league international side. 

International football, of course, is a different beast to club football altogether. The analogy is pretty close though.

The qualifying campaigns are long, drawn out affairs and in Scotland’s case unfulfilling. Having failed to reach a finals since 1998, the national side remain way off the pace.

After Saturday’s lucky draw at Hampden there appears to be no sign of that changing. Scotland always seem to come up short when they need exactly the opposite.

Gordon Strachan was a good appointment for the national side. He’s a good coach and was an iconic player so he fits the bill in terms of an international leader in my view.

The trouble is, Scotland were lack some exciting players on Saturday night. They have a good variety of talent playing at a decent level in England but there weren’t many on the park that I would have considered as star players.

Robert Snodgrass was probably the only guy I’d put in that category that started the match at Hampden. There might be a few who have moved with rather large price tags or command larte salaries but nobody got my heart racing against the Lithuanians. 

Lithuania are ranked around 70 places below Scotland, but Strachan’s players struggled to create chances let alone score goals. There is the basis of a good Scotland squad,but you need players out there providing a bit of inspiriation.

There are plenty of guys out there who haven’t even been capped and could do a very good job. When their time will come remains to he seen.

I might be slightly biased in my analysis,but not one Celtic player started. Leigh Griffiths, James Forrest and Kieran Tierney were all on the bench.

Are we really saying none of these guys were good enough to start against Lithuania at Hampden? And what about the other Celtic players yet to get a sniff at a Scotland squad such as Stuart Armstrong and Callum McGregor?

Of the Celtic outfield trio, one, two or all three should have started given their form this season. Coming off the bench is all well and good but I think Gordon set up wrong for this match.

Scotland should have hammered out a solid home win at Hampden. With a more attack minded team, Scotland could have ended this game early.

Intead they were chasing an equaliser. Had they gone on the front foot sooner, Strachan could have switched things and rested players for the next game.

Away points will be hard to come by in England, Slovenia and in Slovakia on Tuesday. We can add Lithuania to that list if Saturday’s match is anything to go by.

Winning home games is essential. Scotland won’t win the group, but they should be doing everything to ensure they amass the highest amount of points possible to see them into a play off position.

Realistcally, that is Scotland’s best hope. Just managing a draw against Lithuania was lucky, but it was also damaging to our campaign.

You don’t get much of a chance to recover in qualification. There are few games in which to make your mark and Scotland always seem to be dragging their heels.

The qualification process is far from decided. At this stage though, it was a blip that Gordon Strachan could have done without.

There will be more dramas ahead. As a Scotland fan of many years, I know that all too well.

Stevie Mac