You and I both knew before last night that Salzburg are well ahead of Celtic, so a 3-1 defeat away to the top seed surprised no one. However, the game itself provided positive, as well as disappointing aspects.
Odsonne Eduard looked a handful when running at defences. His goal and the chance he created a minute before the break typified this. For all Salzburg’s ability, they looked weakest in defence. We looked like we could put the ball in the net every time we got near then, which, admittedly, was seldom.
That aside, Eduard’s distribution was as poor as the rest of the teams’. There were two distinct phases to the game: before Salzburg’s third goal and after. After this point, the home team did not press nearly as forcefully, which allowed Celtic to find men with passes and retain possession. This merely demonstrated how poorly we did so earlier in the game.
Prior to then, passing and movement lacked the confidence needed to play out from the back. For example, Salzburg did not mark defenders in front of or at either side of the box when Craig Gordon took goal kicks in the first half. Despite having three options for an easy pass, Craig kicked long the majority of the time – by definition into areas with fewer Celtic players, as we had three back at the penalty box.
The goalkeeper just didn’t fancy the consequences of passing to an unmarked defender – the story of the game in metaphor!
Dedryck Boyata was the outstanding Celtic player on the park. He won everything in his vicinity and I even noticed him chasing down a ball he had himself headed clear, before others reacted. But, on one occasion, when Craig chose to send a goal kick straight to him, he panicked, lost possession and conceded a chance in a dangerous area. There was an easy pass back to the keeper.
You do not need to be Iniesta to work the ball out from the back. You need to be able to control and pass, while everyone in the team needs the awareness to move into space, ensuring no one is boxed in. This takes lots of practice and confidence. We are correctly working towards this kind of football, but we’re not there yet, even in the SPFL.
The pertinent questions is, has this squad hit the ceiling or can we control, pass and move better? I’m sure we can improve, although perhaps only by degrees.
I know what you were thinking every time Salzburg got a corner kick, “Here we go again” – or was that just me? Instead, we defended set-pieces well; in fact, it was the home team who conceded the two best chances of any type before the interval.
James Forrest tucked in well on the right. He got unfortunate with the bounce at the penalty, which was correctly awarded. No complaints at the red card either, although I could squabble that Dabbur, who was already cautioned, should have received a second yellow on the two occasions he displayed a Tshirt message after his goals, if the referee followed his guidelines correctly. Pedants CSC.
The football business is all about the next game and right now there is nothing on the horizon more than St Johnstone on Sunday. Lick your wounds and get a result, Celtic.