Freeze out the Icelanders!

Tonight Celtic return to Iceland for the second year running for a Champions League Qualifier. Last year it was KR Reykyavik who were the opponents and the away leg came first but this year they face Stjarnan and with the second leg being away.

Celtic are 2-0 up from the first leg and as we all know the job should have been finished at Celtic Park. As it stands, Ronny Deila will need to approach this match with just the right amount of caution.

Starjnan parked the bus in Glasgow and relied heavily on their keeper. Celtic on the other hand were short of match sharpness and had they been on a higher percentage of fitness would have put the men from Iceland to the sword.

I’m not being disrespectful to the Icelandic champions, but if you come to Celtic Park and play the way they did, you deserve a hiding. Tonight I would be satisfied with a similar result though with the importance being a clean sheet.

It’s another highly important game because of the impact this competition has on Celtic’s season. To lead the way tonight my preference for the striking role would be Leigh Griffiths.

His performances in pre-season and since joining overal have been a transformation worth watching. When he first signed I questioned it but as I have said umpteen times before on here, he has proven me wrong and I am happy to accept it.

I’m sure Nadir Çiftçi’s time will come even if his domestic ban slows him down though I fancy him to feature at some point. A long suspension isn’t exactly the best start to your career at a new club but Celtic were well aware of what they were getting into before they moved for him.

However, I think this match will suit Griffiths perfectly and I’d be giving him the nod for sure. He will be keen to get off the mark in Europe and after the penalty miss of last week (thanks to Stefan Johansen) it’s a big occasion for him.

On this day last year Celtic ran out 4-0 winners at Murrayfield to KR Reykjavik with goals from van Dijk (2) and Pukki (2). This was following a 1-0 win away with the  goal coming from Callum McGregor.

He misses out tonight as does Kris Commons, both sidelined with injury. Van Dijk returns to the fold though after serving a suspension carried over from last season, but the one man who was sorely missed at this stage last season was Scott Brown.

His presence in the team, though still undervalued by many, is important. Good or bad, he is influential, he is the captain and I’d always have him in the team.

In order to progress this evening, Celtic need to keep things simple, tidy and error free. Stjarnan will no doubt have a go on their own turf but Celtic should be looking to put this tie to bed.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

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Dear Dariusz Mioduski,

Thank you for your correspondence of Sunday 10th August.

In your open letter to Celtic regarding UEFA’S decision to kick Legia Warsaw out of the Champions League qualifying stages, you have attempted to appeal to the fans as well as the club. You talk about great characters of Celtic’s history and the dignity of our club in a cheap attempt to stoke our coals.

This kind of approach reminds me of someone trying to buy something off ebay that is on auction, where the buyer has made direct contact with the seller in an attempt to beat off the competition. Its a very sly game you are playing in trying to call into question Celtic’s beliefs, foundations and history by applying them to a mistake made by Legia Warsaw.

Celtic fans do not need to be reminded by you or anyone else what our club was founded on or indeed what our history is based upon. We Celtic Minded folk know the score and we breathe it every day.

You dare to question the professionalism of Celtic because four of your own staff failed to carry out their duties with any? I suggest you and your club leave Celtic out of this.

Legia Warsaw won the tie fair and square, something that Celtic fans accepted, no matter how bad it hurt. If you have a beef with anyone, it is with UEFA.

The punishment outlined in the rules that were broken were not written by Celtic. As disproportionate as they may appear, it is not for Celtic to remedy the situation.

Do not darken the doorstep of Celtic because we are the benefactors of your clubs failure to execute something simple. Even though there was no gain by Legia Warsaw fielding Bereszyński, it does not come down to Celtic to make it right.

By all means, go to CAS and argue your case. It probably won’t alter this case but it may invoke a change in the future.

The fact is, if it had been a 2-0 forfeit, we wouldn’t be having this debate. If you had managed to score either of the penalties from the first leg, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Go to UEFA and go to CAS. Celtic have played by the rules and took our medicine these last two weeks.

I suggest you take yours.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

No capital gain for Celtic

The true position of Celtic Football Club was abundantly clear last night. What was on display at Murrayfield was not just devoid of passion and determination, but simple football and basic communication.

Prior to kick off there remained a chance and an opportunity to repair the damage from a week ago in Warsaw. What I saw in Edinburgh turned out to be worse than the first leg.

I’ll set aside the issue that the squad has not been strengthened for now (in fact it’s a likely to get weaker fairly soon). What I will discuss is Ronny Deila, his coaching team and the players he does have at his disposal.

Last week we witnessed a disaster. The bright start made by Celtic eventually slid in presence and quality as the match continued.

A red card and a capitulation could have and probably should have seen Celtic fighting a bigger deficit at Murrayfield last night. As it turns out the deficit was three goals with an way goal in the bag as a boost – not impossible to turn around.

Whilst others went off at the deep end, I gave Deila the benefit of the doubt. The chance to redeem himself with eleven players rather than the ten he was left with for last week’s second half was enough for me to remain optimistic but all involved would have to step it up.

What I watched last night lacked everything you need in European football. In terms of level of performance, it was a shadow of a Celtic side.

With Efe Ambrose suspended, Deila selected Mikael Lustig to partner Virgil van Dijk in central defence. That seemed like the sensible choice given vice captain Charlie Mulgrew’s surprisingly woeful stand-in (or should that be stand-up?) contribution last week, a role he won plaudits for not so long ago.

Emilio Izaguirre was back in the starting line up in his usual left back role. Adam Matthews, who deputised for Izaguirre last week (though why I still don’t know) returned to his more familiar position at right back. With Fraser Forster in goal, this is the defence most of us would have chosen and certainly one I didn’t disagree with.

Then there’s the midfield. Weakened by the injured club captain Scott Brown and lacking the kind of personnel not just to win over fans but to actually win the battle in the middle of the park.

Alongside captain Mulgrew was Stefan Johansen and the young but wilful Callum McGregor. Also in the mix was Nir Biton who if memory serves correctly has barely seen any action this summer.

In front of them was Kris Commons and Anthony Stokes. Commons is a first pick at all times but Stokes’s (unplayed last week) inclusion left me wondering once more why Leigh Griffith’s or even the ‘in form’ Teemu Pukki didn’t get the nod.

Even with this starting lineup I gave the manager the benefit of the doubt. As the match got underway it transpired that the wheels had come off, the teeth had fell out and the game was a bogey.

I’ve seen Celtic teams of the past at least show the determination and effort required to try and overcome a first leg humbling. As an example, Strachan came up short against Artmedia Bratislava away but returned to Celtic Park getting a good win only to come up short in goals scored.

Just last season saw Neil Lennon take virtually the same group of players and overturn a poor away result against Shakhter Karagandy. Lennon did manage to overturn that result, but last seasons unconvincing entry into the Champions League was a warning to the club.

Despite making the group stage last season it was a poor offering and should have been confirmation that this season would yield little more without change. Now that Celtic are out of the Champions League competition shows you that the warning signs were ignored or at the very least, accepted by the board.

You could argue that it wasn’t Celtic Park and therefore didn’t feel like a home game. We weren’t screaming about that when we put minnows KR Reykjavik to bed two weeks earlier though.

What fans are seeing is the club downsizing to the point where they are happy to do just enough to win the league. Given that grim outlook, Europe won’t be a happy hunting ground, as this Champions League “campaign” has shown as well as the one prior to this have demonstrated.

We know that Celtic are not able to compete at the top in terms of transfer fees and wages. I’m not entirely sure where we are competing though.

Lennon said after last weeks game in Warsaw that this result was coming. That the club had to spend but wouldn’t.

As much as it saddened me to hear Lennon say this so soon after leaving, left me feeling unhappy with him. To a degree he is right though, and certainly knows more than I or any other fan.

What now awaits Celtic is a two leg play off match for the Europa League. As much as I hate to say it, this might be a better competition for Ronny Deila if he is to succeed in creating his own team.

If Celtic had somehow overturned the deficit last night the next opponent would surely have wiped the floor with us. The thought of not playing in the Champions League makes my heart sink but at least I won’t have to watch Celtic get slaughtered.

Europa League football isn’t guaranteed, nor am I convinced that Celtic will qualify. If they continue to play as they are at the moment and come up against a basic team like Legia Warsaw then the club can kiss goodbye to any additional income from Europe.

Instead, Ronny Deila will spend a whole season trying to make sure he doesn’t get a hiding from Aberdeen, Dundee United, Motherwell and Inverness. When you consider that Forster, Van Dijk and possibly others might depart, I fear for the direction Celtic are heading in.

It is evident that Deila cannot just wave a wand and make things happen. He’s young, just in the door and getting to know this group of players.

It may well be that these players aren’t good enough. They might not be of sufficient quality to adjust to a new format.

Yet I still feel Deila made some poor choices as many Celtic managers before him have. Also, I can’t imagine John Collins sitting in a TV studio watching as a pundit agreeing with some of those choices either.

Would he not advise against some of Deila’s choices? Would he not moot a similar setup to Lennon’s until they had the right personnel in place?

I was also baffled by the decision to throw on Forrest when the game was already dead and buried. I mean why throw on a guy with injury problems when the match is lost?

It was stupid and put the player at risk. Even Deila himself admitted a few weeks ago that he would not rush Forrest back until he was 100%.

I can’t put my finger on the issue or the decisions. I can only endure what is to come and hope that in the long term Deila’s vision will bear fruit.

It must be said though, Europe is not the theatre to perform new tricks in. In the Champions League there is too much at stake, particularly for Celtic.

I bought into the Deila appointment and avoiding total calamity, I am still prepared to give him a season to make things happen. The question is, what are the board prepared to do to help him get there?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

One game

Defeat can bring out the worst in people, particularly in football. In the aftermath of a humbling European result for Celtic the post mortem has been in full swing.

Having not watched the match live, I was not in the company of my usual crew. I watched the match very late last night having avoided the score all evening to “enjoy” in my own time.

I thought Celtic started well enough even if the team selection was different to what I would have expected. Certainly it was as best a start as I could have expected going into a match of this kind in late July.

Last night the debate was under way with analysis of players, tactics, coaching and of course Celtic not spending cash on the agenda. This is what I’ve come to expect when the proverbial hits the fan, though Celtic didn’t exactly help themselves.

A bright start coupled with a sublime opener by Callum McGregor was short lived following Miroslav Radovic’s equaliser. That was a real slap in the face but that agony was further compounded by another goal by Radovic.

To say both of these goals were defensive brain farts is an understatement. The space gifted to opposition in and around the box was almost gift wrapped.

If Virgil van Dyke and Efe Ambrose built up an understanding last season then that is where it remained last night. Whether it was a communication or purely a positioning issue I am uncertain, but basically the defence didn’t do their job.

Any communication they did possess ceased when Ambrose was sent off. A mistimed tackle was Efe’s last participation in the match due to being the last man.

At 2-1 down and showing signs of fragility, half time couldn’t come quick enough. The chance to regroup was much needed but to be honest any opportunity Deila and his players had to resolve their mistakes ended when Celtic went down to ten men.

The second half was hard to watch. The failure to snub out Legia Warsaw left Celtic riding their luck for 45 minutes.

Charlie Mulgrew, captain in the absence of Scott Brown, stepped into the central defence. His contribution to defensive calamity was as much a surprise as it was a disaster.

In midfield, Celtic lacked the steel and courage to dominate. Moving the ball about at high tempo merely impacted the rate of complete passes.

I also questioned the decision to play Adam Matthews in place of Emilio Izaguirre. I know he has played at left back before but was it necessary?

Many brought up the inclusion of the loaned, Jo Inge Berger. Given that he hasn’t trained to the same degree, it is a valid question.

I’m not judging the player, just the fact that Leigh Griffith’s might have been the better choice. Given that Teemu Pukki knows the players better, hooking him instead of the new boy was another error.

Beram Kayal didn’t bring much to the game as his replacement. By the time he came on, the game was already an uphill struggle and moving players around as we did failed to help matters.

There were too many risks and changes made for this game. It was always going to be a step up from KR Reykjavik.

Under the circumstances the final result of 4-1 could have been much more and some have said that the scoreline flattered Celtic. Then again, perhaps Legia Warsaw aren’t as good as a “could have been 8-1” suggests and that Celtic capitulated?

Come what may its early days for Ronny Deila and his coaching team. They’ve had the instant pressure and expectation of qualifying for European competition.

The departure of Neil Lennon severed the understanding between coaching staff and team, though he himself suggested that the relationship was waning in his final six months. The one thing that has remained in place is the same squad, minus of course the services of Georgios Samaras.

Last season saw this group of players plateau on the European stage. Deila’s outlook of high tempo football may be a long term vision but to expect this group of players to make that happen could be a big ask.

As yet, we have yet to discover whether any of the transfer speculation regarding some of our players yield any truth. If departures are imminent then Deila would need to be able to spend.

Youth will hopefully be given its chance, as McGregor and Henderson have. Should Deila’s vision be realised, the team will need enhancing but possibly not before departure of one or two.

With all of this in mind, the tie is still open. A three goal deficit is far from encouraging but Deila should at least be afforded the courtesy to put it right with eleven players rather than ten he had for the second half.

We can analyse the damage as I have myself and we know the mistakes that were made but I think many have been too on quick to condemn Deila. Strachan and Lennon didn’t exactly have the best start to their Celtic management careers in Europe, but they did alright in the end.

Murrayfield may not be Celtic Park but it is still home territory for us and the chance remains to turn things around. A tougher opponent would surely await in that next round so its worth remembering when you look at last seasons Champions League performances with this squad, the Europa League could be better value for a team in transition.

We all want the Champions League, but it might be too soon for Deila. A week from now we’ll know where we stand on that matter.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Ronny kicks off with a victory

Celtic’s preseason training under Ronny Deila and John Collins has been up and running for just over a week now. Yesterday at their training camp in Austria, the new management team notched up their first victory.

Celtic beat Russian side FK Krasnodar 3-1 in a preseason friendly in the Hofmaninger-Stadion. Ronny Deila utilised two different teams to play each half, both groups of eleven showing hunger and determination.

Anthony Stokes opened his preseason account in less than two minutes with a nice touch but the Russians equalised in the 19th minute. On 42 minutes Stefan Johansen put Celtic ahead again from a tight angle and after a full cha he at half time it was young Callum McGregor who sealed the victory,having spent last season on loan to Notts County.

Given the timescale the new coaching staff have to prepare before that first Champions League qualifier, it is unsurprising that they used 90 minutes to run the rule over 22 players. That trend may continue for the next game against Rapid Vienna as well.

By the time the LSK Linz and Dukla Prague matches come around Ronny and John should have a better idea of a starting eleven. That first competitive match against KR Reykjavik is now only 11 days away.

The management team have already underlined the room for improvement but they will be encouraged by the start made in Austria. The most important thing from this was that Ronny got to cast is eye over so many of his players in one match.

Celtic are of course without a handful of players such as Forrest, through injury. They are also without their World Cup contingent of Izaguirre, Forster and Ambrose.

The latter three are unlikely to feature in the first competitive match over in Iceland. Though there is the chance that they could be included in the squad for the return leg at Murrayfield a week later.

That will all depend on whether Ronny feels they have each has had sufficient rest after the World Cup. It will also depend on whether he deems it necessary to call upon their services.

All are important players for the club but Celtic have sufficient cover. What is encouraging is that Ronny is already talking about how different things will look a year from now.

For the time being, its a positive start for Ronny and John and they will be keen to influence and improve the team further. The next friendly match is on Sunday against Rapid Vienna where we will hopefully see another advance in preseason preparations.

New signing Craig Gordon has joined up with the squad now. With four keepers now involved with the first team matters, it is likely one will be shipped out on loan or sold.

Fraser Forster is the prime candidate tipped for a big move away from the club. It has also been mooted that Lukasz Zaluska could depart but it even young keeper Leonardo Fasan could find himself on a loan move if he requires experience.

This story will unravel itself over the coming weeks but for now we know there is no shortage of keepers. The same can be said throughout the squad, unless of course Celtic move anyone on or accept bids for players in key positions.

For now, Ronny Deila must assess what he has in experience and what he has coming through the ranks. Youth finally looks like it will be given a chance and for me that’s encouraging and long over due.

Ronny seems determined to make that happen. With that in mind there may be no rush for new signings.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

The Celtic Roadshow

Celtic will face KR Reykjavik in the Second Qualifying round of the Champions League. After today’s draw in Nyon, Ronny Deila discovered who he will be up against in first competitive game in charge of Celtic.

In between now and then, he and assistant John Collins will be preparing the squad for that first of six possible matches that they would need to overcome in order to emulate those achievements of Celtic’s past two seasons in Europe. The Champions League group phase is undoubtedly the aim for the club but it will be a stern test for the management team at their first attempt.

The Icelandic champions aren’t the worst selection but also not to be taken lightly. KR Reykjavik have been involved in the qualifying rounds for European competition consecutively the for the past five seasons.

However, they have never made it past the Second qualifying round of the Champions League or Third qualifying round of the Europa League. Their conqueror’s in those last five attempts coming in the form of FC Basel, FC Karpaty Lviv, FC Dinamo Tbilisi, HJK Helsinki (who Celtic later beat) and last season Standard Liege.

These losses should not be overlooked or underestimated. Even though Celtic are deemed a bigger club by history, experience and size its all about doing your home work and getting it right on the day.

Last season was by no means a convincing path to the group phase for Neil Lennon. There is nothing to suggest this will be any easier particularly that Deila will be using the same group of players as Neil Lennon did, minus Joe Ledley, Georgios Samaras and Kelvin Wilson.

On the subject players, one man Celtic will face is former youth hopeful, Kjartan Finnbogason. He was recruited by Celtic as a highly rated 18 year old but in his time at the club he never featured in a first team game.

He endured injury and loan spells during a three year spell before seeking opportunities away from Celtic. Having scored 31 goals in 67 matches for KR Reykjavik, he’ll be looking to prove a point against Celtic.

Preparations will be begin on the training ground for Celtic and decisions will be made on who take up key roles in defence, midfield and attack. There will be friendlies against Russian team FK Krasnodar, Rapid Vienna and LSK Linz of Austria and Dukla Prague of the Czech Republic to help make those decisions as well as a friendly against Dynamo Dresden in between first and second leg of the Second Qualifying round.

Although Celtic will play these friendlies on away or neutral territory, they will not play their first competitive match at Celtic Park, despite the home tie being first. With Paradise being used for the Commonwealth Games, Murrayfield will be home for Celtic’s first Champions League qualifying match.

Should Celtic advance from that round, it is likely that the home leg of the Third Qualifying round will also be played at Murrayfield. The closing ceremony for the Commonwealth Games is on Saturday 3rd August and it will take a while to prepare it for football once again.

So Celtic will remain nomadic until mid-August. With European football on the menu, it may even work in the Ronny and Johnny’s favour.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie