Last night’s historic win in Brussels feels like a breakthrough moment. It has been 16 years since we first played Champions League group stage football, but our only win on the road in that period was snatched in the final minute by a Georgios Samaras header in Moscow. This time, the victory was achieved while dominating the game from first to last, not conceding, and punishing Anderlecht’s vulnerabilities.
A word for the defence. Those who make it their business to complain about Celtic, reserved their recent venom for the decision not to move to an alternative central defensive target when Rivaldo Coetzee failed a fitness test. With our first choice defensive line-up available this week for the first time this season, we look remarkably solid. The manager will continue to give experience to Ajer, Miller and Ralston as the season progresses.
Pre-match, Dedryck Boyata played down suggestions that playing in his home town would aid his performance, but I suspected it would. The big defender, and his partner, Jozo Simunovic, were imperious. Celtic enjoyed 63% possession, much of it going through these two. Kieran Tierney and Mikael Lustig were always available for a pass, and seemed to demoralise Anderlecht’s creative talents.
The opening goal was a masterclass for the entire team, but especially so for Boyata and Simunovic, who during the build-up, made seven and five passes respectively. Patrick Roberts and Craig Gordon were the only Celtic players not to complete a pass during the move. You have seem great Celtic teams in Europe, but you have never seen anything like this. That 24-pass Liam Miller goal against Lyon 14 years ago remains alive in the memory because it was so exceptional in that Celtic team. Last night’s opener was 28 passes, was away from home, and is absolutely typical of how we now play football.
Celtic’s attacking players (rightly) attract most of the attention, but the foundation of this team is our back line. Our system of play is not possible without defenders who can receive a fast ball, pass, remain alert and calm. If you are old enough to remember the impact the 1974 World Cup made, the final in particular, last night’s game will resonate with you.
Olivier Ntcham picked up the broken pieces of his performance in the opening 30 minutes to split the defence open for the first goal, before collecting a loose ball and feeding Scott Sinclair for the third. The manager will ponder what was going on during that opening period. Despite the generosity of the win, the result could have been in jeopardy if one link in the chain was not performing.
Years ago I remember analysing goals in our Champions League games and noted that mistakes were overwhelmingly influential in determining the outcomes of games. Our second and third goals were down to unenforced Anderlecht errors.
At the second, the Anderlecht right back had comfortable possession and the opportunity to clear up the line, but instead elected to play a ball into the space in front of his own penalty area. At this point, the hosts were a mis-control away from presenting Celtic with a chance, which duly happened. Scott Sinclair’s injury-time third goal came as a result of an Anderlecht pass out of defence, which rolled straight into Ntcham’s path , allowing Celtic to turnover, 4 v 2.
What followed on both occasions is the lesson every football fan knows, make a mistake at this level, and you will be punished.
Well done, Celtic. A magnificent performance and result. The only away win to compare in the last 47 years was when we caught Ajax cold in 2001.
Celtic FC Foundation, Great Scottish Run
I’m doing the Great Scottish Run this Sunday for the Celtic FC Foundation, full of the joys of being a Celtic supporter during these great times. We are not only about winning trophies and the Champions League, this club is as deep as the ocean. On Sunday, it will be about the work of the Foundation, with the poorest in Glasgow and surrounding areas, in the most deprived communities of London, for those marginalised from society, and for the great work with Autism. Not to mention the outreach in Malawi, Haiti and so many other places most of the world ignores.
I’ve never made porridge in Malawi, or fed the poor in Haiti, not would I know how to engage with Autistic kids, but you and me can do our bit for those who have the responsibility of delivering help where needed. What I can do is run on Sunday and ask for sponsorship. If you can help, do so at this MyDonate page.
The CQN Podcast: A Celtic State of Mind (EP14) Champions League Special
A Celtic State of Mind offers an insight into the culture of Celtic Football Club, the city of Glasgow, and fans of the reigning invincible Scottish champions.
Each episode includes interviews with ‘Celtic-minded’ figures from the world of sport, music, film, art, broadcasting, literature or politics.
Ahead of the crucial Champions League match against Anderlecht, ‘A Celtic State of Mind’ goes behind the Champions League curtain for Celtic’s opening match against PSG.
Kevin Graham provides pre and post-match discussion with members of his CSC, as well as in-match analysis in what will be a regular Celtic State of Mind feature.