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NOW WE ARE BACK WHERE WE BELONG

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And they gave us James McGrory and Paul McStay, they gave us Rogic, Broon and Moussa Dembele. VFR800 reflects on last night at Paradise…

Well that was a night and a half!  Possibly a water-shed moment in our European football under Brendan Rodgers.

Let’s be clear, this was a monumental result against one of the top 4 sides in Europe; a night where I firmly believe that, with the exception of Man City, Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, we probably would have beaten any other team in the Champions League.

We stood toe to toe with a team that cost just short of £0.5 BILLION and matched them. Think about that – a team that cost 25 times more than ours! We took a well-deserved point from them, and that bhoys and ghirls could make all the difference to getting something out of this Group.

I previously shared my thoughts on the Qualifying Stages against Astana and Hapoel Be’er Shiva (read HERE for home tie and the away leg in Israel  HERE) and felt, on the whole, pretty positive about our prospects. I didn’t comment on the Barca game because that was a humbling experience that needed no comment. Not humiliating, but humbling!celtic3-3mancity-20160928-0650

Last night was the catharsis the players, manager and fans needed after Barcelona. Now it gives us great hope for the future; not just this season, but going forward. So I definitely feel positive on our prospects now!

The team performance last night was phenomenal; and in my view, the performance and result were (in perspective) better than both the Tony Watt victory against Barcelona and the Nakamura win over Manchester United.

Against Barca in 2012 we were under the cosh and got a result against the odds with less than 30% possession. Last night we had 43% possession; in context, that is more than any other team has had against Man City this season! This is the first game Man City haven’t won in their 11 outings so far under Pep Guardiola.

Against Man United in 2006 I would say we were up against a team with inferior players to those we faced last night. Ronaldo wasn’t at his pomp 10 years ago; Scholes and Giggs were past their peak. Rooney and Ferdinand were on top of their game, but overall the current Manchester City team are, in my opinion, a better side.

One significant factor in last night’s game was the fact that although Man City (as expected) played more passes than us (567 to 359) the pass completion rates were not too far apart: 86% to Man City and 79% to Celtic. That is a high pass completion rate against a team like Man City. This augurs well going forward. With the exception of Rogic (40%), Gordon (61%) and Tierney (69%) all our other players had pass completion rates of over 70%.

Brown was exceptional in completing 42 of 46 passes (91%), closely followed by Sviatchenko with 49 of 55 completed (89%); Bitton completed 35 of 41 (85%) and Toure 34 of 42 (81%).  This shows that our central 4 are blending well as a unit and working very hard to link play, making use of the full backs and wide players to get us up the pitch. Kieran Tierney received a massive 42 passes during the game; as he matures and his distribution gets better he will be a phenomenal player for Celtic.celtic3-3mancity-20160928-0637

In the middle of the park Scott Brown played his best game in 4 or 5 years; and Nir Bitton, instrumental in playing the killer pass for 2 goals showed what he can bring to the team. His calmness and ability to take the sting out of the game goes un-noticed to many. He was willing to slow the game down at times to keep possession and take the pressure off the defence. This is what managers see in him. I also believe that he makes Scott Brown a better player.

Tom Rogic, although he had a low pass completion rate, was fantastic and some of his running with the ball were superb. The pass he took from Bitton in space for the second goal, and then his pass to Tierney out wide shows how cleverly he reads the game and how well he can play the ball. He does try some difficult passes that don’t always hit the mark, but those that do often lead to a chance.

He really complements the midfield pairing of Brown and Bitton.

As a defensive unit we were still pretty solid under some real pressure from world-class forwards. Both full-backs defended resolutely and the central pairing were magnificent. Toure adds a steel and a calmness that seems to flow into the other defenders. Gordon was back to his best in terms of shot-stopping and will be difficult to displace. Special mention to Mikael Lustig who I previously said was going backwards; he was resurgent last night and back to the Lustig of old!  Long may it continue!

The front three worked tirelessly and gave the Man City defence a torrid time; Sinclair and Forrest showed last night that they will trouble any defence (and worked a great free kick together), but the star of the show was Dembele. What a shift he put in. Two goals (one a poacher’s goal and the other of sublime quality) and he battered their centre backs throughout the game; defensively he was also willing to get back at help out the team when under pressure.

Armstrong, Griffiths and Roberts all contributed when they came on; so all in all, a magnificent team performance from the 14 players involved.

OK, we lost 3 goals and there were individual errors for all 3, but there was some good luck and great skill involved, so I will accept that we are likely to lose goals to such talented players; just as I accept that they lost goals to us, also involving some luck and great skill.celtic3-3mancity-20160928-0747

So where do we go from here?  Getting out of this Group and into the Europa League was our realistic target and we are more than capable of that. I firmly believe that if we play as we did last night we will take care of Borussia Monchengladbach at Celtic Park. That puts all the pressure on them in Germany. We can use that as the platform to continue our progress under Brendan Rodgers and turn in a display that can see us get a good result on the road in Germany.

I said in one previous piece that I thought we could get something from last night’s game; and the importance of that. Borussia Monchengladbach come to Celtic Park on October 19 knowing that if they lose they have 0 points from 3 games; that means if we draw in Germany, they need to beat Barcelona (away) and Manchester City (home) to progress from the Group into the Europa League.

Then we have the visit of Barcelona to look forward to. After our performance against Man City last night we know we can compete with, and match, the best. Anything from that game is a bonus – as long as we acquit ourselves well, that will suffice for me!  The final game at the Etihad could easily be a dead rubber; or, if the results go against Man City, they could actually need a result to cement second place in the Group. We can always dream!

We have the stadium, fans and atmosphere that can strike fear into visiting teams, this is the envied by other clubs in Europe.  Last night the team on the park complemented that   Exciting times lie ahead; IF we build upon our performance and result last night.  What we MUST take from last night though is the fact that the result AND the performance shows us that we ARE a Champions League team and we are back where we belong!

Written by VFR800. Photography by Patrick McGuire.

If you would like to write about Celtic or other football matters for CQN please email david@cqnpublishing.co.uk

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