Surprised? Well, yes. This was a no-contest early-on in Maribor last week. Even though Celtic didn’t come home with the win, the chances, balance of possession and play, were well in their favour. A defeat last night was never out of the question, but it was the nature of the defeat that was most concerning. We were second best in defence, midfield and attack.
Pre-match, Ronny told us he expected Maribor to sit in and counter-attack. They didn’t, forcing Celtic into disarray. We were fortunate to go in level at halftime; I was screaming out for a tactical change from 20 minutes in.
Kris Commons proved his value. From the moment he arrived, we had an out-ball for the first time in the night, but it was not enough.
Celtic tried to qualify for the Champions League without a target man, or a striker able to play the kind of football Ronny Deila requires to play his kind of football. Stokes, Griffiths, Pukki and Balde are not an appropriate Champions League strike force, by some distance.
We have plenty of midfielders who are happy to pass and run but no one with the composure to hold the ball. Brown, Forrest and Tonev were all missing, but none will occupy the holding roles given to Kayal and Mulgrew last night. Or to Wanyama two years ago.
The defensive collapse since last season is unfathomable. Virgil van Dijk was clearly a class above, whether in defence or attack, and Mikal Lustig was also assured – it is perhaps no coincidence that we lost the goal moments after he was replaced, but Efe Ambrose and Emilio Izaguirre have returned from the World Cup in alarmingly poor form.
This is where we are. We knew this at the end of last season, perhaps Neil Lennon did too. Ronny Deila has a significant rebuilding job on his hands.
Will we make a significant moves forward this week? This season? The Europa League isn’t the cash-cow of the premier tournament, and it carries none of the glamour, but it is a competition we need to be ready for. Perhaps more importantly, qualification planning for next season’s Champions League starts now.[calameo code=000390171586f6fbaa2ba lang=en page=122 hidelinks=1 width=100% height=500]