Photo: Vagelis Georgariou biglens.co.uk
We’ve often discussed that the difference between success and failure at Champions League level more often than comes down to which team makes mistakes. In the group stages Celtic were 31st out of 32 teams for the amount of possession they had, and for the number of chances they created, but they were immaculately drilled and progressed while more creative teams failed.
Cluj had less possession and chances than Celtic but also know the route to effective football, finishing on 10 points and being denied qualification for the knock out stage on goal difference.
Against Juventus, home and away, things changed. Defenders twice jumped for balls they couldn’t reach, instead of turning and standing their ground. Twice players were dispossessed inside their own half instead of getting rid of the ball early. These moments led to four of Juventus’ five goals and decided the tie. By contrast, Celtic enjoyed the bulk of possession and chances, home and away, against the Italian champions.
What are the lessons have been learned in our Champions League games?
Xavi has learned not to try to control a clearance from Fraser Forster at chest height. Spartak’s Insaurralde will know to keep his eye on the ball while clearing the ball when last man while Suchy will know not to clatter into strikers inside his own box.
No Celtic player made a single mistake inside his own half in either of the home games against Barcelona and Spartak and as a result, both games were won.
Our players’ normal mode of play, week-in-week-out, is the intercept passes, not cautiously move to a covering position. They also hold onto the ball and take a moment before releasing, activities which don’t often lead to a goal being conceded within seconds, but Champions League football is stunningly different than the domestic variety.
The most important lesson from our Champions League campaign is that Celtic are one of the most effective teams in Europe. We can create goals and defend successfully against the best on the Continent. We will look back on this campaign as the one which put us back on the map, and we’ll look back on the Juventus games as an important stage in our development.
The strategy is working; same again please.