This is one of those hard ties to analyse. AEK were no more than a decent team. Certainly not a clear cut above, and for that reason, the tie remains alive. But despite being preseason, they defended impeccably.
They did their homework. Tom Rogic, who was immense on Saturday, was not given a yard. Celtic opened well with Callum McGregor the principle threat, most often when linking with Kieran Tierney. After those two crafted the opening goal, AEK man-marked McGregor out of the game.
James Forrest was effective when used; it was his change of direction which drew the second yellow card for Galanopoulos, but we were overtly left sided, reducing Forrest’s effectiveness. Olivier Ntcham was our creative fulcrum after McGregor was shut down, but the normally incisive balls into the box didn’t quite come off.
A few early mis-steps from Jack Hendry were not punished, but the resulting nervousness throughout the crowd was clear. Central defenders are crucial to how Celtic play. If you inhibit their willingness to step forward or show for a pass, you inhibit the entire team.
I’m not sure what Kris Ajer thought when he let a cross ball bounce inside the box a minute from the break. It was an inexplicable decision which brought AEK level and changed their game plan for the second half. Even tiring with 10 men, they defended their box flawlessly.
We regularly tried to find Odsonne Edouard with a ball over the top, but invariably found the striker dropping off to take a ball to feet. Nothing seemed to work for him.
A word on Scott Brown. Much of what Scott does is understated but I thought he raised the bar last night. He bossed all his personal challenges.
I called AEK favourites when the draw was made and they are more so now, but they are not Barcelona, circa 2010. We have been here before; no throwing of towels just yet.