Those suggesting Sunday was the worst Celtic performance of the season have short memories. The campaign was full of days like this until the emergence of Ryan Christie and halftime in the League Cup semi-final at Murrayfield.
Brendan Rodgers acknowledged he got things wrong. Three at the back works on paper when you are a few full backs down, but we simply did not know how to defend the flanks when Hibs broke with speed, which fortunately they didn’t do too often.
Every team has to compensate for absences, often with a straight choice: find a direct replacement but maintain the structural integrity of the team, or give the pack a significant shuffle in an attempt to shake things up. Celtic’s away form this term has been such that Brendan cannot by criticised for wanting to try something new, but 46 seconds into the game it was evident the players did not know what to do.
So what did we learn? Brendan will not deploy the same line-up/tactics combination again. We know already we are heavily dependent on fast-thinking-fleet-of-foot players like Ryan Christie, with Callum McGregor in the deep playmaker role. We know we need a striker to assist Odsonne carry the load – Brendan wants two. We know energy levels are low with the squad facing two games a week, pretty much since June.
Valencia beat Manchester United last week in the Champions League, so will have no fears of travelling to Celtic Park in the next round of the Europa League, but this draw is neither impossible nor the easiest possible for Celtic.
The Spanish club are 14th in La Liga, a healthy five points above relegation, but will surely be more focussed on getting their domestic results sorted than hoping for Europa glory. The teams last met in competitive action in 2001, when two home 1-0 wins saw the Uefa Cup tie go to penalty kicks, which Valencia won 5-4, with Larsson, Petrov and Valgaeren all missing for Celtic.
Valencia were also Celtic’s very first European opponents. The teams met in the 1962 Fairs Cup, Valencia winning the first leg 4-2 before the teams drew 2-2 at Celtic Park, when John Clark missed a penalty.
The games do not take place until February, but Brendan Rodgers will be encouraged his team are in with a chance. Practice penalties, please.