It was all so promising. 35 minutes in, eight Celtic attempts on goal, zero for Valencia. Even when Jeremy Toljan left the field for a second yellow card, there were still positives. We both know that last night’s game was never really about qualification for the next round, so too did Valencia, but it was a useful yardstick for where we are now and where we can hope to be in the summer.
Scott Bain was already established as first choice ‘keeper, but, without seeing much of him before joining Celtic, I think we can say this was the best performance of his career to date. He can play at this level and has been an excellent acquisition to the team.
Brendan Rodgers felt sore about Jeremy Toljan’s second yellow. The full back was pushed before falling into Guedes. It was harsh and the referee probably failed to spot the push, but Toljan was caught in the wrong position and his fall was unnecessary. Jeremy is undoubtedly an upgrade on Mikael Lustig, but small lapses like this is why he’s not at Dortmund right now.
The three central defenders were stand-out successes. Kristoffer Ajer will replay in his head, the header from the free kick and volley from the corner. They were chances to open the scoring but his all round play came close to Man of the Match levels.
I had written off Jozo Simunovic’s usefulness, largely, but not exclusively, on the basis of his fitful availability. However, he showed again last night that he can contribute to the team and deserves a place in the squad. Like Scott Bain, Jonny Hayes had the game of his life. He looked intent to make his mark at the Mestalla and did so.
Callum McGregor was my pick of the midfield players. He was forever tidy under pressure, operating with calm in very tight spaces. Scott Brown was at his best, although a rash tackle brougth an early booking that looked ominous. We got little from the more creative mids, James Forrest and Ryan Christie.
The entire Oliver Burke story was there to see. Great pace and strength, clumsy touch. There is an inverse relationship between speed and control.
Odsonne Eduard made a quick impact when he came on but was eventually subdued. The occasion looked too high a step for Mikey Johnston.
In his post-match interview, Brendan addressed suggestions that he should change his style of play for these matches, citing Leipzig and this game as certification that it can work. Last night had the concession of a third central defender, at the cost of an attack-minded player. We should also caveat that Valencia were two goals up from the game in Glasgow, with little to prove.
The manager is not for changing his high press game, so devastatingly successful domestically, but so open to debate in Europe.