Bloody Astana again!

One of these days we’ll actually avoid a long trip in qualifying. One day we’ll also avoid playing the same bloody teams time and again.

FC Astana stand before Celtic and the group stage of the Champions League. Last season the teams met in the Third Qualifying Round of the same tournament. 

Celtic drew 1-1 in Kazakhstan followed by a 2-1 win in Glasgow. Having both disposed of decent teams this year around I think this could be a close encounter.

Celtic are a better team than last year despite not quite as sharp as we could be. Astana have dispatched Legia Waraw though so there is merit in that result. 

I just can’t believe we’re playing the same team for the second year in a row. And don’t get me started on the distance!

Playing a team from Kazakhstan is NOT a European tie. However, these are the hurdles we have to face these days. 

It isn’t enough to win your league outright to get into the group phase. You have to play some team from Central Asia or the Middle East whilst clubs finishing second, third and fourth can march into the group phase directly or by playing one qualifier which even if they falter at allows them to parachute into the Europa League.

There’s no help in the fact that our fellow Scottish clubs are an eternal let down as well. I had hoped Aberdeen would stay the course, but they must have thought they were going to Cyprus for a holiday instead last night.

We may have just eeked past Rosenberg, but given our injury crisis and the fact Rosenborg were half way through their season I’ll give our Bhoys a bit of a break. They don’t make the decisions to play these rounds.

Their efforts of last season were astounding. And after a very short break from a full on season they’ve come back in to do it all over again and much earlier than most clubs who are already secured in the Champions League.

So basically it’s the same story. A story we’re all too familiar with. 

Long trips out of Europe in order to stay in Europe. Flying the solo flag for Scotland once more.

Hail! Hail!
Stevie Mac

Rule of Thumb

This evening Celtic will face Rosenborg in Trondheim. After a goaless draw at Celtic Park last week, the task is now a little bit tougher for the Hoops.
Brendan Rodgers was without a recognised striker last week and the team struggled in front of goal. Leigh Griffiths travelled to Norway and is likely to play, but how fit he is remains to be seen.

Still, having someone actually fulfill the role of a striker, even if they don’t score themselves, is an improvement on last week already. It isn’t that Celtic played badly, they just had no focal point and Leigh will provide that. 

With Moussa Dembele out until September Celtic are a little light up front. Brendan has strengthened the team for sure, but not for this position.

The question for Brendan is can he afford to carry this sort of risk for another season. I don’t think he can. 

Rosenborg may not be at the seen as thw same team from when Celtic last faced them in 2001. However, seventeen games and midway through their season, fitness and sharpness is at a higher level than Celtic’s.

Kåre Ingebrigtsen had his team well organised at Celtic Park. They defended well and hit on the break effectively.

At the Lerkendal Stadion, expect another efficient performance from Rosenborg. What Celtic need to do is be more clinical.

There were chances last week for both sides. Rosenborg looked better on the break, whilst Celtic had trouble finding the target.

Despite dominating the first half and the match over all, Celtic only managed 2 shots on target out of 12 attempts. Rosenborg had 8 attempts with 4 on target.

Goals haven’t been hard to come by for Brendan Rodgers team in the last year. Be it one of our front men or the midfield we’ve produced the goods. 

At the weekend, Celtic dismantled Championship side Sunderland 5-0 at the Stadium of Light. It was a comprehensive performance against a Sunderland team who finished an eight game pre-season with their first defeat.

There were some notable performances from Celtic including a double save by Dorus de Vries from a penalty and a fine match by Kieran Tierney who wore the captains armband for the first time. It was hattrick hero Callum McGregor who stole the show though.

Some Celtic fans have given this guy a bit of stick in his time as a first team player. Much of that was likely to do with Ronny Deila’s faith in the midfielder.

He gave him his first senior game and often turned to him throughout his two year stint as manager. He rarely let him down. 

McGregor has proven everyone wrong time and time again. Now, people are calling for him to play up front against Rosenborg.

I’m not sure how effective he would be in that role. He is a versatile player who is good for goals and assists.

To play up front you need a presence and I’m not sure Callum has that exactly. What I will say is that he should play a part in this one. 

The striking dilemma will be addressed by playing Griffiths. Let’s hope he can impose himself enough to help get that result to see us into the playoffs.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

We’ll need to triumph in Trondheim

Celtic came up short against a well organised Rosenborg side last night. The absence of a recognised striker didn’t just leave the Hoops without a focal point, it left the opposition without anyone to martial.

Brendan Rodgers commented on Dembele and Griffiths being out before this game. That he was quite happy with the given situation and that people may not have noticed but Tom Rogić had played up front before and may well for this game.

Well, Rogić didn’t move into the strikers role. In fact nobody did.

Instead Celtic created an arc of midfielders with Sinclair at one end and Forrest at the other. Both players were ineffective.

I was surprised at Sinclair’s performance. Forrest’s lack of dynamic concerns me more.

At the deepest part of this midfield formation lay Armstrong and Rogić.  Again, neither were having much of an effect in front of goal.

Rogić can’t play up front. He needs a few yards to get into his stride and to have a man in front of him.

That could have been Sinclair or maybe even Aitchison or Nesbitt or Miller. Armstrong was trying to find a way through but there was no movement in front of him or anyone else in the midfield for that matter.

Ntcham was keeping things moving in front of a tireless Brown who was protecting the defence. This was probably our most efficient zone, but it didn’t last for 90 minutes.

Celtic lost ground in the second half and frustration set in. The introduction of Hayes did have an influence, but Rosenborg got braver and began to increase their hit-on-the-breaks.

We were beginning to get caught out. Rosenborg had the better chances despite Celtic’s dominance in the match.

Tierney was off his game in defence and attack. Lustig was having more joy getting forward, but he too got caught out a few times in defence.

This was nowhere near what we expect from Celtic or at home. Still it is only our third competitive match.

Rosenborg set themselves up well. A better Celtic performance can triumph in Trondheim.

I don’t think we underestimated Rosenborg. I do think Brendan going without a striker was a mistake though.

No need for a third striker? I disagree.

It’s a day off for the opposition. Nobody to drawing defenders, nobody for the opposition to mark.

Confined to potshots from attacking midfielders. We should have had one of our young lads just occupying the position.

What do I know though eh? Perhaps I’m just spoiled after an unbeaten domestic season?

I’ll finish on a positive so you don’t all think I’m a miserable got. Praise goes to our defensive diamond of Gordon, Simunovic, Ajer and Brown.

They all worked together and overcame any pressure from our toothless attack. Dare I say they kept us in the game?

Sorry, I’m being miserable again. Get the cheque book out Celtic and bring Paddy home, Brendan.

Whilst you’re at it, go get another striker. We’re going to need one.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Home Start for Ajer?

Celtic take on an opponent of higher calibre this evening, than they did in previous round, as they bid to progress in the Champions League. Rosenborg are tonight’s visitors at Celtic Park and although they’ve been penned as a shadow of their former selves, Celtic cannot afford to underestimate any side in Europe these days.

In the last round the Norwegian team won the tie in extra time after 1-1 draws in each leg with Dundalk. Both began their journey in the Champions League qualifiers last season as well.

The League of Ireland side made the group phase of the Europa League whilst Rosenborg failed at the play off stage of the same tournament. I’m not sure that makes one team better than the other though.

I wouldn’t pin too much on last season. Celtic are a team trying to build in Europe again so Rosenborg should be given due respect.

The only difference is that this time around we know the capabilities of this Celtic team. This time last season we were waiting to find out what that was.

What may hold us back for this game is injury and suspension. Leigh Griffiths is suspended, Moussa Dembele is a doubt and Erik Sviatchenko appears to be partnering Dedryck Boyata our injured central defenders list.

That leaves Celtic weak at the back and up front. What Celtic do have an abundance of are attacking midfielders.

According to Brendan Rodgers, Tom Rogić could play up front. Scott Sinclair deputised when Dembele and Griffiths were both out last season, but the manager insists this isn’t a problem for him.

Goals have been spread pretty well throughout this Celtic team. The real worry is defence.

We’ve played three at the back before, but I’m not so sure this is a game we want to do that. We may be playing at home but I expect a better effort from Rosenborg.

We won’t know how they’ll shape up until later on. Brendan could get away with Mikael Lustig, Jozo Simunovic and Kieran Tierney at the back, but minus a recognised striker I’d be wary.

The loss of Emilio Izaguirre and the injury to Cristian Gamboa doesn’t help us out either. Kristoffer Ajer could be an option to partner Simunovic, though the Norwegian hasn’t seen a lot of game time under Rodgers but he has made over 60 appearances in the Norwegian top flight for IK Start as well as 17 appearances for Kilmarnock whilst on loan last season.

With so much riding on these games he could be the best option despite having only played 1 competitive game for Celtic. It may all ride on a late fitness test for Dembele and of course Brendan’s tactics.

The key to victory will come from the midfield. That’s our strongest area, but needs to be effective.

If we go three at the back then the defence will receive adequate protection from one or two players in a packed midfield. Similarly, with the prospect of not striker, someone will need to step up.

I’m keen to see Brendan’s tactics on this tonight. Should be an interesting match,

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Bury the hatchet and get back to supporting the team

This week our focus should have been on playing Rosenborg at Celtic Park. Instead, the Celtic community has been debating about the Green Brigade.

Don’t get me wrong, this had to be discussed. There is also a need to resolve this matter and get back to focussing on supporting the team.

The Celtic support are a varied bunch and from time-to-time we disagree on certain topics. The one thing that should be remembered is that no one fan is better than the other.

The club is supported world-wide with people from all walks of life. Each supporter follows the club in their own way which is all relative to their own personal circumstances.

The Green Brigade, whilst largely occupying the standing section at Celtic Park, also travel to away games at home and abroad. So do plenty of other Celtic fans in this country and in others.

I have my own personal opinion on the events that brought about the two game closure of the standing section at Celtic Park Similarly I have my own opinion of historical infractions within the Celtic support that have led to action by the club or the football authorities.

The overall opinion of the Green Brigade is a mixed one. Some would like to see the back of them for good, some back them to the hilt whilst others want them to cut out the bollocks and consider the consequences of their actions.

We don’t need a supporter civil war right now. We need a united support for Brendan Rodgers and the players on the park.

The club have been criticised for many things over the years from board appointments to spending restrictions. Currently, we are on the crest of a wave and the team and the coaching staff need the fans to create he voice in Europe we are well-known for.

Rightly or wrongly, the club were landed in the shit and now we are without a key part of our voice for two matches. Like I said, I am not going to debate the matter on here – there are plenty of other bloggers who do a better job of it than I.

The image of the club has been marred in the last couple of weeks. I’m not going to point the finger at any one person or faction – we just need to be thinking of the bigger picture.

As I used to say in my old job: “Give them nothing and they will take nothing. Do that and you can challenge everything else.”

Let’s get back to football, looking out for one another and covering each others backs. There are other off-the-field issues which we have to ensure are addressed by Celtic and the rest of Scottish football.

This is not the time to challenge our own club or each other. There is too much at stake.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

Celtic v Linfield

This evening, Celtic will play their first competitive home game of the season. With a 2-0 lead from Friday’s match in Belfast, Brendan Rodgers will be looking to end this tie with Linfield without too much fuss.

Leigh Griffiths is said to be a doubt for the match whilst being treated for an injury, but Celtic have not yet confirmed this. The Scotland striker, who was subjected to missile throwing, questionable refereeing and bureaucratic UEFA action from the first leg, it would be more likely Leigh is being kept out of the limelight until things settle down.

Since the UEFA ruling, Brendan Rodgers has come out and stated that Griffiths should learn from this lesson. He has also supported the player though in that he would never consider moving him on which seems to be the angle the media have.

His opposite number, David Healy, has also come clean about the actions of the Linfield fans and said that he did see missile throwing and condemned the behaviour of the Linfield offenders. It’s a bit of a turn around, but he’s obviously kept his mouth shut until UEFA made their position known.

After the storm of Friday’s match, I hope that tonight will be focussed on the football rather than those use matches as a supporter’s battleground. I don’t often say that, but the first leg has left a bad taste in the mouth completely.

Police Scotland put out a strong message to the fans of both teams. With the match already a sell out, there will be plenty of noise to keep the Linfield fans quiet.

Similarly, I’ll be looking for the Bhoys to silence the opposition on the park. With Boyata already out and Griffiths a doubt, there are opportunities for others to come in.

Celtic picked up five bookings from the first leg and could opt to rest some of those on a yellow card. Any player to pick up a third yellow card in these qualifying games would receive a one match suspension for the next game although entering the group phase would wipe the slate clean, should Celtic get there.

The question for Brendan Rodgers today is how much does he want to interfere with the team? The quick answer is that there are plenty players who will be bursting at the seams to play.

Potentially there could be starting slots for any number of players from the first team.  Above that, there are a plethora of youth players on the B list who are also available to Brendan Rodgers.

The current squad registered with UEFA is as follows:

Player List A: Craig Gordon, Dorus de Vries, Emilio Izaguirre, Jozo Šimunović (yellow card), Cristian Gamboa, Dedryck Boyata, Mikael Lustig, Erik Sviatchenko, Nir Bitton, Scott Brown (yellow card), Scott Sinclair, Stuart Armstrong (yellow card), Tom Rogić (yellow card), Olivier Ntcham, Kundai Benyu, Kristoffer Ajer, Callum McGregor, James Forrest, Kouassi Eboué, Leigh Griffiths (yellow card), Moussa Dembélé and Jonny Hayes.

Player List B: Conor Hazard, Kieran Tierney, Ross Doohan, Sam Wardrop, Jamie McCart, Stephen Welsh, Kerr McInroy, Lewis Bell, Wallace Duffy, Joe Thomson, Liam Henderson, Aidan Nesbitt, Ross McLaughlin, Regan Hendry, Calvin Miller, Mark Hill, Broque Watson, Michael Johnston and Jack Aitchison.

I do think Brendan will make changes, but whether he drops all five on yellows or just some remains to be seen. It could well be that all will play, but just for part of the game.

Whatever way it goes, Celtic have this tie in the bag. Before kick-off they will know who they will face next week due to the time difference and early kick-off in Trondheim.

Odds are that Rosenborg will see off Dundalk having taken a point and an away goal back to Norway. I’m sure Dundalk won’t go down without a fight though.

Having made the group phase of the Europa League last season they have that achievement to build upon. Rosenborg’s European adventure ended at the play-offs last season so they have amends to make.

Good luck to both teams. Look forward to facing the winner next week.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

UEFA intervene…

…but not how I expected them to. It would seem that rather than ‘taking sides’, the European football body have chosen to punish everyone…well almost.

Linfield have are charged with spectators hurling missiles onto the pitch and a field invasion. Celtic have been charged with racking up excessive yellow cards and last but not least, Leigh Griffiths charged with provoking spectators.

The charges against Linfield are totally understandable. Both the fan behaviour and the stewarding was unacceptable.

Almost ten years ago, Celtic were fined £25,000 by UEFA after a home supporter ran onto the Celtic Park pitch and confronted AC Milan goalkeeper Dida. The confrontation involved the fan approaching the player making a small amount of contact.

Dida gave chase and then chose to drop to the ground in a somehwat comedic fashion. Hsi overeaction earned him a two game ban by UEFA.

Now I get that this isn’t the same type of incident, but the fine on Linfield should be greater given the implications and the fact this is a decade on. It’s one thing to for a fan to invade the playing field, but it’s another to intend harm.

The missiles that rained down on Leigh Griffiths (and Jonny Hayes later on) as he attempted to take a corner, came long before the incident that UEFA wish to charge him for. If tying a Celtic scarf to the goal post in front of his own travelling fans – something that Griffiths has done at other away grounds – is deemed provocative then you have to look at the supporters, not the player.

Why would you get upset at such a thing? I mean, it’s not as if he blessed himself is it?

You have to question the fans. You also have to question the referee who lost failed to control the game.

So far I haven’t heard anything about the referee being reprimanded. And yet, he misjudged the safety of a player on the field of play.

If UEFA want to throw the book at Linfield and Celtic then they need to do the same to Alejandro José Hernández Hernández. He was already branded a bungling referee in a high-profile game which denied Barcelona a much needed win last season over Real Betis.

You can’t punish the clubs without accepting the mistakes of the officials as well. If you don’t then UEFA are as guilty as the clubs.

As yet, Celtic have not commented on the UEFA decision. They are unlikely to until this second leg against Linfield has been put to bed.

What you can probably be assured of is that Celtic won’t take this lying down. The decision to overturn Griffiths’ yellow card has already been ruled out as there no such appeals process for this type of booking.

The entire episode is farcical. In my mind the only thing Celtic are guilty of is five yellow cards and one of those should never have been issued in the first place.

Tomorrow night Celtic will put Linfield out of Europe and look ahead to the next round against Rosenborg or Dundalk. The sooner this match is over and done with the better.

We don’t need these kind of fans at Celtic Park. We have enough of them over at Ibrox and even then, that’s too close.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac