Europa League awaits

Celtic ended their Champions League campaign with an unexpected defeat. It was a rather flat performance for the home side, but they have made it into Monday’s Europa League draw.

It was a strange post match feeling. The expectancy to win coupled with a defeat left me feeling deflated yet satisfied at securing a last 32 spot in European football’s other tournament.

Anderlecht started the match better. Celtic seemed unable to produce anything similar to the Belgians until the second half.

They also provided Anderlecht with the winning goal. Jozo Simunovic’s header beat Craig Gordon meaning the Belgians failed to score against Celtic home and away. 

Given their seeding and player budget that has to be a disappointing result for Anderlecht. Celtic on the other hand have beaten the odds.

Regardless of the result, I’m pleased Celtic are still in European competition. For two more matches at least. 

Being unseeded means a tough draw but to be fair Celtic will be up against it anyway. It would be nice to get a run in the Europa League for experience if nothing else. 

I’m certainly not expecting Celtic to win the tournament. This team has potential but there are a number of areas that still require attention.

With any luck those areas have already been identified and will be addressed in due course. January would be a good time to start.

Celtic don’t require major surgery. Brendan Rodgers does need to consider his defensive frailties, the loss of Paddy Roberts and improving Celtic on the European stage. 

Any departures are unlikely until the summer. Next season will be tougher to get into the Champions League so investing now for a possible run in the Europa League would be good preparation.

For now, we can breathe easy for a few months. European football will be waiting for us after Christmas.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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67: Motherwell the best preparation for Anderlecht

Motherwell came to Celtic Park on Saturday for the teams’ third meeting of the season. All in the space of seven days and at three different venues.  

We know the previous stories. They’ve been all over the news.

Penalties, diving, club statements and media frenzy. What a week it has been.

Motherwell have had something to say recently. Their form has been good and they have some overall potential once again.

What they shouldn’t have done was let that go to their heads too much. There’s an overwhelming sense of self-importance emanating from Fir Park because of two penalties.

Whichever way you lean with regards to those two incidents, Motherwell are getting ahead of themselves. They’re on the up, but they need to repeat their efforts before they begin to become a mainstay at the top of the Premiership.

Over the three games, Celtic were a far better side. I have no complaints with any of the results and now the unbeaten run stands at 67 matches.

The drubbing dished out to the Steelmen on Saturday was a perfect way to end a turbulent week. It has also set Brendan Rodgers’ players up for an important game tomorrow night at Celtic Park.

Anderlecht are in Glasgow for the final group phase match. They are seeking their first win and Celtic are aiming to stop that.

The Belgians have to overturn Celtic 0-3 to go through. Given that Celtic beat Anderlecht by the same scoreline away from home, many are hoping this is an unlikely scenario at Celtic Park.

However, Anderlecht now have nothing to lose and will all out to save their European season. They will face a Celtic side currently on a high though.

Much has been made of Celtic’s dismal home form in Europe. The majority of which has been against superior opposition.

European football after Christmas hasn’t been secured for three seasons. A home win in the Champions League even further back.

I am confident that Celtic can do this for a number of reasons. Not just because of the score from the first leg in Belgium.

Celtic haven’t been a maximum strength all season but it is getting closer. Some players have rightly been rested in order to take in this match.

Some players are beginning to find their form. James Forrest is setting the scene on fire and at a time when Paddy Roberts has been sidelined.

Scott Sinclair who despite scoring many goals so far, hasn’t been at his best. In the last couple of games he has looked better and perhaps some bench warming has played a part in that.

Odsonne Edouard exploded into form against Motherwell at the weekend with a fantastic hattrick. With the return of Moussa Dembele and the in form Leigh Griffiths Celtic are well equipped in front of goal.

Although yet to be outright convincing, a central pairing of Jozo Simunovic and Dedryck Boyata will set everyone’s minds at rest. As injury prone as these two have been they are also the best we have for now so I’m delighted they will both be available.

Our full backs, Mikael Lustig and Kieran Tierney may be about a decade apart in age, but they each provided Celtic with good defensive and attacking roles. Scott Brown is having another amazing season as well.

Even in the games where Celtic were being outgunned by superior opposition, Broony has been at the heart of the fight. The club captain is a vital part of the Brendan Rodgers machine.

He is also surrounded by a set of interchangeable players who make up the midfield. Whether it is Olivier Ntcham, Stuart Armstrong, Callum McGregor or Tom Rogic there is a blend for every game.

Other contributors this season have been Nir Bitton, Kristoffer Ajer and Eboue Kouassi. They have all come in and shown decent form during tough matches.

Craig Gordon has been Celtic’s number one again but he has not been without mistakes. Thankfully, he still has the ability to pull off good saves though his time as number could come under scrutiny come the end of the current season.

Overall, the squad is strong and of a manageable size. Come January though there may be some further tweaking.

If Celtic make it to the last 32 of the Europa League, some bolstering will be required. Better to do it then than wait until the summer.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac