A negative night, but the table doesn’t lie

The starting line-up was predictable, but the performance was ineffective. Salzburg outclassed Celtic in the first 45 minutes of last night’s crucial match at Celtic Park and even an improved second half performnace wasn’t enough to earn the point we were seeking.

However, as it turned out, Rosenborg did the unthinkable and stole their first point in this group in their final match. The outcome of that unlikely result allowed Celtic to progress despite suffering defeat in Glasgow.

Thats because we won three, lost three. Leipzig won two, drew one, lost two.

I’m not going to excuse anyone for last night’s poor effort. We should have changed tactics much sooner than we did as it clearly wasn’t working.

Salzburg enjoyed themselves so much, they looked like Barcelona. Wave after wave of attacking, free flowing football.

Nobody would have argued with our starting line-up. It has brought us recent success on the park.

It was evident early on though that it wasn’t going to work against Salzburg. So obvious, you knew we’d have a different shape at half time.

We should have instigated that change no later than the half hour mark. So why didn’t we do that?

We were hanging on by the skin of our teeth in the first half. How we didn’t concede is a miracle.

I think most of us were satisfied with the team Brendan put out and wouldn’t have disrupted that. As it turned out it yielded nothing.

When Brown and Olivier Ntcham entered the fray we looked a different team. But we were gutless on the left wing with Scott Sinclair and James Forrest never really got the service until the second half.

Kris Ajer had a terrible time at right back filling in for Mikael Lustig who went off with a head knock. I’m not even sure Cristian Gamboa would’ve been the answer either had he even been on the bench.

Kieran Tierney was getting rinsed in the first half and was even a culpable at the first goal. Overall I thought Jozo Simunovic and Filip Benkovic didn’t do too badly, but they had no protection and made some poor decisions under pressure.

Tom Rogic looked way off the boil, even when he did get the ball. Callum McGregor didn’t impose himself enough and Ryan Christie never saw much of the ball before eventuallygoing off injured.

I thought Odsonne Edouard did okay considering the pressure on the young striker. In fact he worked harder in the first half defensively than in an attacking sense.

Overall this was a game to forget. And yet Brendan Rodgers must learn from this.

It was a tactical error and he should hand changed things sooner. You could argue that had Craig Gordon, who was keeping us in it, not made a second half blunder we’d have got the draw.

The fact is we got it totally wrong and must learn from it and move on. We’re in the last 32 because we got more points than Leipzig and Rosenborg.

Many have focussed on the fact that ‘Rosenborg did us a favour’ and I’ll be sure to buy a pint for the first of their supporters I meet. However, if Rosenborg had got a draw in Trondheim against Leipzig earlier in the tournament and lost last night it would have been the same outcome with Celtic going through.

So I’m not going to start saying we got lucky. It’s about six games over a period of three months.

The permutations can vary. What Celtic must do now is invest in our squad.

We have to buy players to plug the gaps now and for the ones that will appear come the end of the season. There is also a need to inject further quality into this team.

If Lewis Morgan is to be the replacement for Sinclair then I want to see him now. Edouard will need support, especially with Leigh Griffiths on a sabbatical.

Our defence needs surgery particularly at right back. The centre of defence will be without Benkovic and probably even Dedryck Boyata by January or June.

We have the makings of a good team, but it requires an upgrade to progress. Success doesn’t come cheap, but we don’t have to break the bank either.

European football is secure for another two games. On Monday we will find out who we face in the Europa League draw.

Last night was in our hands and we blew it. Fate played its part and gave us a helping hand.

We won’t always get a rub of the green. We must make our own luck.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Advertisements

It’s all in your hands, Celtic.

If you’d told me a couple of months ago that we were going to go into Matchday 6 of the Europa League with qualification in our own hands I wouldn’t have believed you. However, the turn around in Celtic’s fortunes since that time has been fabulous.

The issues of the summer, though not completely forgotten, now seem like a bit of a distant memory. Such is Celtic’s level of performance right now it is hard to look back.

Celtic have got themselves out of a rut and playing some tremendous football into the bargain. They have been focussed on what lies ahead instead of dwelling on the past.

To watch the team evolve in the last couple of months has been thrilling. Player after player has stood up to be counted.

During a hectic winter run in, Celtic have put themselves back at the top of the league, won the League Cup and got their European mojo back. Tonight they welcome RB Salzburg to Celtic Park in a match that the Hoops cannot afford to lose.

Now to be honest, had Salzburg not beaten Leipzig two weeks ago, the game would probably have been a bogey. That said it also required Celtic to beat Rosenborg in Trondheim and Leipzig in Glasgow prior to tonight’s game.

Celtic have done their bit and Salzburg have done theirs. The Austrians have won 5 out of 5 games in this group and they will want to make it 6 despite having won the group already.

They’ve also bagged three times the amount of goals that Celtic have and conceded one less. Brendan Rodgers will not be underestimating Salzburg.

The Austrians have a good record against Celtic and competing in last seasons Europa League. I’m not going with the Red Bull collusion storyline.

I don’t expect anything but a victory from Leipzig who entertain Rosenborg at the same time. The Norwegians haven’t got a single point to show and I don’t expect that to change this evening.

The ball is in entirely Celtic’s court. A win would be fantastic, but a draw is more than sufficient and possibly the best we can hope for given how well Salzburg have done in this tournament in the past 18 months.

The only modicum for Celtic is that with qualification and top spot already secured by Salzburg, the visitors may not be quite as up for it as the hosts. And when you consider Celtic are on playing well right now, these combining factors could be well-timed for our European hopes.

Our form is good, our attitude is balanced and player availability strong for the most part. For a squad that has been criticised for being smaller than previous seasons, each player has their own unique value.

With a few exceptions, every single first team player has a key role to play be it in the starting eleven or from the bench. The headache for Brendan Rodgers is how does he play it tonight?

Celtic’s last two Europa League matches have been without Scott Brown in the starting lineup. With fluidity playing a key part in Celtic’s form right now would Brendan even dare displace anyone to allow the club captain back in?

There is a balance to be struck in these games. To remain strong, retain your form and not upset the flow.

At this moment in time I would suggest that Broony coming back in could go either way. With Celtic’s scoring opportunities greatly enhanced without his inclusion of late it is a tough call whether you want to disrupt that in place of a no holds barred midfield spoiler.

My feeling is that we start with Broony on the bench as we have since he returned from injury. The only exception being that he started against Motherwell.

As much as he can offer in physical games, we also have to flex our muscles on the attacking front. We have to take the game to Salzburg and that might be more successful with a bit more verve in the midfield.

Callum McGregor has covered every blade of grass since he filled in for his skipper. You could argue that he even has a good shout as captain.

Ryan Christie’s continued rise this season has been nothing short of impressive. You can’t leave him out of any midfield selection right now.

Tom Rogic, is still getting back to his best but he can always produce something magical in a game. Tonight could be just one of those matches for him.

James Forrest has been unplayable since last season. He has goals, assists and route one football in his locker and a strong contender for Player of the Year.

Those are the guys that have to play tonight. The question for Brendan Rodgers is who does he throw in as his fifth midfielder/attacker?

With the exception of the match away to Motherwell, Scott Sinclair has started every game since Celtic since the 0-5 demolition of Dundee at the end of October. Therefore it is likely that he will get the nod ahead of Olivier Ntcham or Scott Brown.

Sinclair has yet to rediscover his first season form of 25 goals and 13 assists in 50 games. That earned him the SPFA Player of the Year, SFWA Player of the Year, Celtic Supporters’ Player of the Year and the Celtic Players’ Player of the Year awards.

Last season both his and Celtic’s performances were lacklustre yet the stats tell a different story. 18 goals and 17 assists in 55 games is not to be sniffed at as it played a huge part in securing the double treble for the us.

This season he’s way off the pace with 5 goals and 5 assists from 27 games, but there have been moments of confidence creeping back into his game albeit with no real consistency. A continued run in the team will perhaps help him get back to his best because if he doesn’t, Lewis Morgan will be knocking on the door.

For now the spotlight is off Sinclair as fans and the media focus on the top performers in this team such as Forrest, McGregor, Tierney, Christie and Benkovic. Tonight though I expect to see Sinclair on the left and he must focus on getting back to the player he can be.

It’s all in your hands boys. It’s all in your hands.

I end today’s blog in acknowledgement of Leigh Griffiths. Yesterday, Brendan addressed the media and informed them that the striker would be taking a break from the game to obtain some help and support with issues that have been affecting him.

I’m not going to speculate on what those issues may be. The only thing I want is for Leigh to seek the assistance he needs and that he gets back to a good place on and off the field.

He’s an important player for the club and the fans, who has overcome every obstacle to be a Celtic star. Whatever is affecting him right now, we all want to see him back in the Hoops as soon as he physically and mentally can.

Let’s hope we can give you some good news after tonight. All the best Leigh.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

First silverware in a captivating season awaits

Celtic’s story so far this season has been eventful. There have been highs, there have been lows.

On Thursday night they put in a professional performance against Rosenborg in Trondheim. Coupled with Salzburg’s home win over Leipzig, Celtic’s Europa League fate is now in their own hands.

I’m not sure that was a situation I envisaged given how this season unfolded in those early months. Celtic’s change in form in the past couple of months has been nothing short of formidable.

They’ve taken top spot in the Scottish Premiership and kept their Europa League campaign alive going into the last group stage game. On Sunday they face Aberdeen in the League Cup Final to decide who takes that first piece of domestic silverware.

Aberdeen will looking to exorcise recent cup final defeats by Celtic. They last faced each other in this final two years ago.

Celtic were 3-0 victors in that one which put them on the road to their first treble since the Martin O’Neill era. Tom Rogic, James Forrest and Moussa Dembele were all on the score sheet that day.

In the same season, Celtic cemented that treble with another win over Aberdeen. They ran out 2-1 winners in the Scottish Cup Final by which time Aberdeen must have been sick of the sight of us.

In fact I’d imagine that most of Scottish football are sick of us winning everything. Should Aberdeen fail to halt Brendan Rodgers’ domestic superiority at Hampden tomorrow you can only imagine what will happen in the weeks and months ahead.

Celtic have suffered the loss of key players, injuries, poor form and even personnel infractions. The transfer market wasn’t exactly fruitful either, but look at us now.

A smaller squad we may be compared to previous seasons, but practically every player is playing a key role these days. Only a few are either out of the picture or injured.

I’d suggest that this close knit squad are functioning more effectively. There’s certainly another wave of belief sweeping through the squad.

That might just be enough to win another treble. First though, we must win on Sunday.

Derek McInnes’ side aren’t having their best season in the league. Then again only ten points separate the top eight teams.

That’s remarkable for Scottish football. We’re so used to a greater gap by now.

I’d say this has been one of the most interesting campaigns in a long time. So Sunday could be a classic given the possible implications should Celtic win.

There’s generally a bit of a physical tussle between both clubs these days. That goes back to the days of Neil Lennon, through Ronny Deila and now with Brendan Rodgers.

Aberdeen have been the second best team in Scotland the last four seasons. This season they may have to relinquish that to one of the other teams currently performing better.

Sunday will be a different situation though. I fully expect a serious challenge from the Dons.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac