…OK, I suppose we have to mention them.
I did a preview for STV on Monday and was asked what my expectations were for last night but had to admit I had zero expectations. This season I hoped we would get into the Champions League group stage, or at least, the Europa League. We remarkably overshot. My real hope for the latter stages of the tournament was that we would exit without taking a hiding.
Technically, 0-3 at home is a bit of a hiding but it doesn’t feel that way for several reasons. The first half was the best football we have seen from a Celtic team in years; far better than either of the performances against Barcelona, and on a par with anything under the Strachan and O’Neill eras. Unlike Barcelona, this match plan was flawed, but it was an honourable flaw.
The “gamble” to play Efe is one which Neil may consider, in time-honoured Celtic tradition, will be inscribed on his gravestone. When you face Juventus you need to take gambles; if they all worked, clearly, they were not gambles. This one didn’t, we learn and move on. The player put on a brave performance and I’m very proud of his achievements this month.
With an away game at the daunting Juventus Stadium to come, many considered that our best chance of qualification would be to win the home game, and we clearly went about our business with the intention of doing just that. Had we faced Juve in the group stage it is possible we would have left fewer spaces at the back. Any watching Barcelona players must have marvelled at how big Celtic Park looked on TV last night compared to their visit two months ago.
We don’t know how good Juventus would have been if we camped in front of our own penalty box, as they did for long periods, but they were a more-than-effective counter-attacking team.
It is hard to pinpoint what we were missing. Georgios Samaras would have played if fit and would have given us the height-dimension up front we lacked without him. He would also have given Gary Hooper the support he badly missed. Charlie Mulgrew’s status as Best Corner Kick Taker in Europe is at risk if he doesn’t take corner kicks until Kris Commons has innumerable tries.
Juve were prepared for the Celtic threat from corners and behaved illegally throughout the game. One of the referees should have had the strength of character to deal with the problem but they were sadly unable.
There were many positives. Emilio is back to his very best. On one occasion in the second half two Juve players were goal-side with only Forster ahead. Emilio made-up the five yard deficit and stopped the attack. His pace, skill and decision-making were first class.
Kris Commons repeatedly took-on a crowd of Juventus players before releasing a team-mate or making space for a crack at goal. He looked like he enjoyed the occasion but didn’t get the clear-cut chance his play deserved.
Lustig and Matthews are both excellent right-sided defenders with pace and skill. Kelvin Wilson did well, as did Efe for long periods. Fraser had little to do all night but had no chance with any of the goals. Victor Wanyama bossed everyone in his vicinity, and this was some vicinity. Roy Keane played 13 games for Celtic and, after an unfortunate debut, I remember thinking “This is what all the fuss is about”. Victor elicits the same sentiment; more on the consequences of this another day.
On Friday 1 March the Lisbon Lions will be at the Kerrydale Suite providing commentary and answering questions on their magnificent European Cup final win in 1967. This has never happened in 46 years since that game, to say it is a unique opportunity fails to tell the whole story.
The event is part of our 125 4 125 campaign – central to reinvigorating the charitable spirit which is part of the club we love. It will be a family occasions, tickets are available at £10 for adults and £5 for children. The night has been organised by several fans working in conjunction with the people at Celtic Charity, so please do your best to support this great occasion. Individual tickets or tables are available, details here.
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