The result was possibly better than the overall team performance but we still had some great individuals last night: notably Roberts, Tierney and O’Connell; and despite many pundits and Celtic fans making Efe Ambrose the fall-guy before a ball was even kicked, he performed fairly well and didn’t let us down.
However despite the positives, there are some worries surrounding the team and these need to be addressed, and I am sure Brendan Rodgers and his coaching team will look at these.
After critical games like last night, I often have a wee review of the major talking points with my brothers or my friends; however, last night I thought I’d jot down what, for me, were the major issues and share them with my fellow CQN’rs. They aren’t individual events in the game, more “food for thought” based upon performance and outcome.
1. The defending at set pieces is still shocking!
Irrespective of the personnel, our ability to defend set pieces is horrendous. Every time a high ball comes in we look shocked and dazed. The defenders seem caught between zonal and man marking; the goalkeeper doesn’t command his area and attack balls; when he attempts it (like last night) he is woefully inadequate. The goalkeeping coach and defensive coaches need to work on this as a matter of urgency otherwise it will cost us points and games maybe even a place in the CL Group Stages. Hopefully Kolo Toure will add experience and calmness to this area of madness, but it needs worked on – and quickly!
2. Despite myriad midfielders, we still don’t have the balance right!
We have some very talented midfield players but cannot get the balance in the centre right. I am deliberately ignoring the wide midfield players here (Roberts, Christie, GMS, Forrest) and Commons because I don’t see him featuring heavily this season; I’ve not seen enough of Ajer to comment on how good he is, so I will discount him just now.
If we look at what we have, there is plenty of talent: Brown, Bitton, Johannsen, Rogic, Allan, McGregor, Armstrong, Henderson. That’s in effect 8 players looking to fill 2, 3 or 4 spaces depending on how we line up (although Armstrong could be put in with the wide players).
From that, we should be able to find a mix that will work well in terms of holding and creating. Bitton and Rogic are both immensely talented but both are enigmas.
The Bitton from last night is precisely what we need and Rogic can be (in my opinion) the most creative player in our ranks. However, both need consistency.
Scott Brown is, again in my opinion, still top class and I think many fans (and pundits) just don’t appreciate how important he is to the team: I watched the re-run of last nights game, and he was far better than I initially thought when I watched it live!
Johannsen, Allan, McGregor, Armstrong and Henderson are all talented players but lack of consistency (and opportunity for Allan and Henderson) means none have truly cemented a place in the team.
The coaching staff have their work cut out here to determine the best formation and personnel and we need to get this defined quickly! For me, 3-5-2 with Tierney and Roberts on either side of Brown and Rogic, with Bitton Just behind may be the best option, with Tierney dropping into a back 4 when needed.
3. Patrick Roberts is the real deal!
Paddy Roberts performance against the Red Imps was rightly lauded; I would argue that his performance in Astana was even better.
On another night their left back would have been sent off before half-time but the Italian ref seemed happy to let him away with multiple bad fouls.
Roberts kept going throughout and, to his enormous credit, didn’t react to the rough-house treatment he was getting.
He was a great out-ball and created space for others as 2 or 3 Astana players surrounded him; unfortunately we didn’t punish them for it by using that space.
It was poetic justice that he chased a lost cause and picked the left back’s pocket to set up Griffiths for the goal. The weight of his pass for Griff was sublime, making it easier for him to score. He will have a fantastic career ahead of him!
4. The young players will get their chance.
Dembele and O’Connell are only 20; Tierney and Roberts are only 19. If you are old enough, you are good enough.
It is refreshing to see younger players being trusted and played in crunch games. Roberts and Tierney were arguably the best players for Celtic.
O’Connell was at fault for the goal, made a couple of errors in the first half BUT didn’t let it affect his confidence. He grew more confident as the game progressed and looked solid.
He reads the game well and looks like he will be a stalwart for years to come. KT more than proved himself over last season and again last night!
Solid in defence, great going forward, and what a tackler! Danny McGrain anyone?
The jury is still out on Moussa but on evidence from last season at Fulham, he will come good. He gets into some good positions and was unlucky not to win a penalty last night. I am sure we will see him banging in the goals soon!
Janko is 20, Christie, Rogic and Fisher are 20, 23 and 21 respectively. Henderson (20), Nesbitt (19) and Aitchison (16) are all in the first team squad and although on the periphery, they will all play a part this season. This bodes well for the future – and shows that our youth policy is working!
5. Brendan Rodgers looks to be top class.
The fact that BR took largely the same group of players from last year and got a result in a tricky away tie in oppressive conditions was fantastic. I seriously doubt we would have achieved this last season; my gut tells me we would have collapsed a-la-Malmo and Molde last year.
His use of substitutions was clever and turned the game in our favour. Nir Bitton steadied the ship and actually moved Broony further forward where his drive was more influential in the last 15 to 20 minutes.
Bringing Forrest on had the desired effect of widening the game and Rogic was more industrious than McGregor and Armstrong combined.
The use of a back 3 when we pushed forward changing to a back 4 when KT dropped back in was fluid and clever. He also handles the media very well and defends his team!
So all in all it was a great night and we are, as it stands, through to the play-off round. We are in control and should not throw this away.
Personally, I think Astana were the toughest opponents in the Champions route and getting by them means we will have an easier tie in the play-off round. A great job well done last night, but as Rodgers keeps telling us, it’s still only half-time!
Written by VFR800 for CQN.