Congratulations to Brendan and the players, last night’s results makes it virtually certain we will qualify for the knockout stages of the Europa League. This tournament will give us peer-level competition into next year, Uefa coefficient points and could see income hit (drumroll) NINE figures for the first time.
While the wider context of last night was positive, the performance in Paris was tactically abject. In successive seasons we have conceded seven goals away to the top seed in our Champions League group. The total of 12 conceded to PSG this season contributed to them achieving a new record of all-time top scorers in a group stage, despite having only played five games.
I love the football we are watching under Brendan as much as you, but we are singularly unprepared to face opponents who perform at a higher level than us. This issue has nothing to do with our lowly league, or the calibre of players we are able to recruit, or even their endeavours during the game, it is about tactical choices.
Last week I watched Sweden resist Italy for 90 minutes at the San Siro. Sweden were awful, they couldn’t string two passes together. It was an exercise of attack v defence, but whenever the Italians turned one man in a yellow jersey, another two would descend upon him. There was no space inside the box, no overload of unmarked strikers fighting each other to latch onto a loose ball.
The contrast to the acres of space we allowed PSG last night is stark. While this is a great PSG team, one who have a good chance of going all the way in the tournament, this result is exceptional, even for them. No one in French football has conceded as many as seven to them this season, nor did a poor Anderlecht side.
The reason for this is not that the weaker French sides are all better than Celtic, it’s that they pack their penalty box, as we used to do, when facing top teams in the Champions League.
Think back to how Neil Lennon’s team pulled narrow at the back to deny Barcelona, with Lustig, Ambrose, K Wilson and Matthews in defence. Or how Gordon Strachan’s teams twice kept Milan, out for 90 minutes, with defences of M Wilson McManus, O’Dea, Naylor at home, and Caldwell, Pressley, McManus and O’Dea at the San Siro.
None of the defenders Strachan used would get into this Celtic team, nor would Efe, Kelvin or Adam Matthews. The key difference between the respective outcomes is not personnel, but tactics.
I loved the confident way we played for the opening 8 minutes but I also knew what we were in for as soon as PSG started making passes. We are, by a magnitude, not good enough to take the game to PSG in this manner. They found it very easy to carve us open and score, and as soon as the goals started raining in, that early confidence evaporated.
Instead, we played most of the match looking unsure and exposed. Any development opportunities had to be crammed into an 8-minute period, after that, it was just brutal. It wasn’t even down to poor individual performances. In fact, several players did very well, they were just tactically abandoned.
After Gordon Strachan took Cafu, Maldini, Gattuso, Seedorf, Pirlo, Kaka, Inzaghi & Co. all the way, Milan went on to beat Bayern Munich, Manchester United, and Liverpool in the final. Don’t pretend this PSG team are significantly better than that Milan team, because it is just not true (I could argue the opposite). Nor are they better than the Barcelona team Neil Lennon beat 2-1 and lost by the same score.
The key difference between now and then, is that Gordon remained haunted by his first dreadful result as Celtic manager, as was Neil, who was schooled 4-0 by Utrecht in his first season qualifiers, whereas Brendan’s equally dreadful debut result did not impose the same need to learn a lesson.
There is beauty in defending, so let’s learn to do it well.
FRIDAY EVENING ON CQN…
— Paul John Dykes (@PaulDykes) November 23, 2017
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