We sacrificed Scott Sinclair at half-time to pack central mid, but this left Kieran Tierney covering two men at the opening goal, meaning Salzburg had time to deliver a cross. A consequence of this is that Celtic had an extra man in the middle, to help the already surplus defender count. No Salzburg player should have gotten near the cross ball.
Olivier Ntcham was lost in no man’s land, not helping Kieran Tierney and nowhere near a Salzburg player. Think back to the Gold Standard of Celtic packing a defence, Barcelona 2012. Just as we did in the second half last night, we sacrificed space on the wings, allowing the opposition possession there, but everyone in the box knew their job and stuck to it – and that was a defence with Kelvin Wilson, Efe Ambrose and Adam Matthews playing out of position on the left.
Losing the first goal due to a lack of concentration when a cross came into the box with a surplus of defenders in position, was the same trait that saw us leave the Champions League in August. I’m more inclined to forgive Craig Gordon’s lapse at the second goal – a freak mistake that will not be repeated – than shrug off the fact that we switch off at crosses at a rate not known under Efe Ambrose and Kelvin Wilson, two defenders who would not get near this team!
Salzburg were superb; the significantly better team. In these circumstances, we have to make life difficult for them. Try to ensure that if they get a goal, they have to do something exceptional to earn it. Had we been at our best and done this, we would have left with the point we would have needed, if unanticipated events did not take place elsewhere.
If I’m getting everything off my chest at once: missing three consecutive penalties! Really? Practice, practice, practice.
The uptick in our threat level increased when Filip Benkovic was moved forward into a striker’s position. We struggled to get the ball forward before this, it was just not sticking to Odsonne Edouard. Odsonne is playing the role Dembele fulfilled before his flounce, but he is a different player to Moussa. I don’t think he will flourish in a solitary role with his back to goal.
So much of our transformation in recent weeks has been down to the impact of Ryan Christie. If he is out for an extended period, which looks likely, this will have a negative impact. The return of Kristoffer (Alfredo) Ajer was welcome, although our resident Norwegian must have hoped for an easier game to feel his way back into.
The outstanding player in a Celtic shirt was James Forrest, he was the only player who could live with Salzburg’s speed of thought, never mind speed of foot. We think of Kieran Tierney as our MVP, but James is the one opposition scouts will leave talking about.
And what of Rosenborg? At Celtic Park they did what we should have done last night: stick to task, don’t make mistakes and hope for a break, which almost got them a point. I was surprised they came back from a goal down in Leipzig, but, without seeing the game, I am sure they deployed the same game plan there as in Glasgow.
Nine points is a fabulous return from that group. Eliminating Leipzig, a team who reached the quarterfinals of this tournament last season, knocking out Zenit and Napoli, before losing to eventual finalists, Marseille, is an exceptional achievement.
We got the break when we needed it, but we earned the right to be waiting on the break for performances across the six games. Napoleon (translated) said, “I’d rather have lucky generals than good ones.” He should have added, “But don’t talk about luck if you win having battled on all fronts for weeks.” We are into the knock out rounds on merit.
Bring on the Hibernians.