Last night’s win didn’t look on the cards until the opening goal; Astra were passing the ball better and creating as many chances as Celtic. It looked like the game we expected – without Commons or Guidetti. However, we find ourselves top of the group with 7 points from 9 at the halfway point, having recorded a draw away to top seed Salzburg.
There’s still a lot of work to do, a win away at Astra next time out in no way guarantees qualification, but we stand an excellent chance of progressing and a decent chance of topping the group.
Having thumped Ross County at the weekend there was a notion we’d turned a corner, which fed some of the frustration last night, despite the result. What we saw was very poor passing from a disjointed team. Players were receiving the ball in too little space, where options were already closed. This impacted the effectiveness on Callum McGregor and Mikael Lustig in particular, but it seemed when every Celtic player looked up there wasn’t a good pass on.
This is all a consequence of change. We look disjointed because we are disjointed. We’re disjointed because we’re rebuilding.
The relevant questions are:
Do we need to rebuild?
Are we making progress?
Yes, we need to rebuild. The squad, tactics, training and other processes are all going through change. For so long we watched Celtic squads remain constant and grow old (under Martin O’Neill), or out tactics become rigid (under Martin and Gordon Strachan), to the point that we were crying out for some experimentation.
The above is seldom disputed but the question of progress is more important. Right now Celtic need results. They need to survive in the Europa League long enough to test and improve their passing, movement, instincts and, where necessary, squad.
Last night’s win wasn’t pretty but it was vitally important. The next challenge for this team is also important; we need to go to Romania and put on the kind of performance we did in Salzburg. If we can do that, we’ll have earned a platform to build on.
Caesar & the Assassin, the accounts of Billy McNeill and Davie Hay as Celtic managers, is available below.