Sumptuous Celtic put on a show

Last night’s performance was magnificent.

After a week of travel, a humbling defeat in Munich, and an intense encounter in the League Cup semi final, facing Aberdeen at Pittodrie could have been a daunting prospect.

The second best team in Scotland have been in terrific form this season, going to to toe with Celtic; before last night being separated only by goal difference.

On Saturday there were signs that some players needed a rest. Leigh Griffiths, Scott Sinclair & Paddy Roberts began to look particularly jaded.

Last night Brendan Rodgers, once again, got every call perfect, replacing the aforementioned attacking trio with James Forrest, Moussa Dembele & Tom Rogic, with McGregor moving slightly wider left than versus Hibs.

The movement, one touch passing, pressing, and most importantly confidence with which Celtic played was electric. Celtic had a swagger about them last night and from the opening stages the only question was how many would we win by?

If anyone with an interest in football doesn’t know who Kieran Tierney is by now they must be living under a rock. Whilst the team performance was fantastic; Tierney, Dembele & Rogic, in particular, were phenomenal. KT’s finish and inch perfect cross for Dembele’s first were exceptional. The young bhoy is living every supporters dream, and his celebration epitomises just what it means to him to pull on the Celtic jersey.

A special mention also to the much maligned Nir Bitton. Bitton strolled through the match, reading any rare Aberdeen foray forward and dictating possession from the back. I’m often very critical of Bitton and it was a joy to watch him produce such a calm and composed display last night.

61 domestic games unbeaten, top of the league, a League Cup final coming up, and currently sitting 3rd place in the Champions League behind 2 of football’s elite powerhouses.

This is how it feels to be Celtic, and just like Kieran Tierney, I’m loving every minute of it.

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Dembele double sends Celtic into final but Achilles heel evident

This lunchtimes League Cup semi-final was certainly an entertaining game of football. 

The first half saw a dominant Celtic control the tempo of the match and establish a two-goal lead, without creating many clear openings, thanks to Mikael Lustig’s double.

After the break the baffling decision to award Hibs a second half penalty caused an end to end final half an hour of the game, with Moussa Dembele coming off the bench to secure the victory.

Leigh Griffiths has been in exceptional form for club & country, but having a fit & firing Dembele adds another dimension to our attack. Keeping both strikers happy will be a challenge for Brendan Rodgers, but a headache which he will relish in comparison to the dilemma of the Celtic defence.

We have three senior central defenders at the club: Dedryck Boyata, Jozo Simunovic, Erik Sviatchenko, over the past year Jozo & Dedryck have deservedly cemented themselves as the first choice pairing. Our trouble is that all three are injury prone, and as such, susceptible to missing key matches. In January I would expect at least one new centre half brought into the club, however more than just the personnel, we have one major weakness when it comes to our defensive unit.

Disregarding our tendency in recent games against Europe’s elite to be overawed and intimidated by our opponents, especially in the opening 20 minutes, our fatal flaw is our inability to defend through balls from an inside forward position, and to track the deep runner attacking the ball.

On Wednesday night it was Kimmich & Thiago Alcantara’s turn to split our defence.

Müller may have opened the scoring but the goal came down to our inability to read and react to one of these type of passes from Kimmich. 

Our defence lines up too square on the edge of the box, with Gordon hesitant inside his six yard box, making us redundant to the dinked through ball over the heads of our centre halves. The space Robert Lewandowski was awarded all night was shocking, particularly for the first goal as nobody tracked his run.

Over the years we have seen Lionel Messi carve teams open at will with such passes. Against the best sometimes there is nothing you can do, however, we are seeing this far too frequently in Celtic matches, today’s second goal for Hibs came from Whittaker’s slipped through ball & Shaw’s unmarked deep run.

I don’t know the answer to defending these occasions, if I did I’d be in a dugout right now rather than sitting behind a keyboard, whatever the solution, we must find a way to heal our Achilles before we can begin to resist Europe’s elite.

A Saturday lunchtime stroll in the park

Sometimes when you have three important games in a week it can be necessary not to over exert yourselves in the early fixtures.

If we have ambitions of retaining all our trophies won last year, and progressing in Europe beyond Christmas, today’s visit to Ibrox was the game to reserve some energy, being bookended by the two real big fixtures.

Celtic more than did the job on Wednesday night with a four goal thrashing of Dundee in the League Cup quarter final.

Wednesday’s upcoming game at Anderlecht is massive in our battle for third place in the Champions League. Anderlecht aren’t in a great place having just sacked their manager, and are missing some key players through injury, however this is the Champions League, and Anderlecht displayed a stronger challenge away to Bayern Munich than we did at home to PSG. This is the real big one.

Cliché as it may be, today was a very professional performance. Celtic were a little wasteful in the final third, and even had a 10 minute spell when we let rangers join in our game, but on the whole the dominance Brendan Rodgers and his side have at Ibrox was there for all to see.

It may feel slightly disappointing to see the majority of the home support remain in the ground beyond the 80 minute mark, but retaining fresh legs for Wednesday was key. Plus, I’m not sure Pedro would have survived another humiliating thumping. Positives all round.

What better way to start off the weekend than with a Saturday lunchtime stroll in the park.

The almost perfect summer

As the transfer window closed last night the only disappointment from the past few months could be the lack of a new centre-half.

Under Brendan Rodgers we’ve seen numerous players individual game’s improve significantly. One such player to vastly progress, especially since the turn of the year, is Dedryck Boyata. A centre half pairing of Boyata and Simunovic is certainly not something to be dismissed, but the trouble is that all three senior centre halves (the aforementioned alongside Erik Sviatchenko) are susceptible to injuries.

In Rivaldo Coetzee we appeared to have identified our new recruit at the back, however once an injury was discovered during his medical Celtic pulled the plug. Coetzee has since, perhaps surprisingly, transferred to another club, with Ajax Cape Town throwing in a little dig at Celtic regarding their withdrawal from the transfer. 

A medical is there to identify the health of a player in all aspects, as we know from history the requirements can vary from club to club and player to player, just ask John Hartson. 

In the case of Coetzee he may feel aggrieved at not successfully completing his move to Celtic, and consider himself fit enough to play, as his new club clearly does, however with a history of injuries to all our senior defenders, withdrawing from the deal was probably the correct decision once the pre-existing condition was identified.

In midfield we’ve added real quality and potential in Olivier Ntcham.

Johnny Hayes provides back-up on either wing in place of Gary Mackay-Steven. In GMS’ time at the club, and in Hayes’ early appearances, their biggest enemies appear to be themselves when it comes to pulling on the Celtic shirt. Once Hayes believes in himself on the park he will start to show the form and ability that we saw for years at Aberdeen. He knows that he’s likely to be used as a substitute for most of the season, but if he can find his feet at the club he will be able to offer something different to our other wingers, particularly with his direct running style and ability to deliver a cross. 

Another player unlikely to see much game time arrived in the form of Kundai Benyu, a talented youngster who may eventually have to go out on loan to gain first team experience. Rodgers, however, saw enough ability in Benyu throughout the summer to keep him at the club in the short term, and it will be interesting to witness his development over the coming months.

To everyone’s delight Paddy Roberts finally returned to Celtic this week. We all know what Paddy is capable of and his return to means that all first team players have been retained from last year’s invincible squad, with possible departee Stuart Armstrong extending his contract by a year.

Our last arrival came on deadline day; Odsonne Edouard signing on a season long loan from Champions League rivals PSG. Whilst a week ago I was entirely oblivious to the name Odsonne Edouard, this signing could turn out to be a fantastic piece of business. Celtic have already agreed on a record breaking transfer fee in order to make the signing permanent should Edouard impress. As has been widely reported, the young forward was a winner of the 2015 Euro youth championships with France, scoring a hattrick in the final against Germany on his way to being awarded the golden ball crowning him as the best player, as well as receiving the golden boot as the top goalscorer.

With three of France’s most promising youth internationals in our squad at the moment we have certainly acquired prodigious talent, talent that with the right attitude and management could end up going to the very top of the game, and in Brendan Rodgers they clearly see themselves under the right management to develop that potential.

With qualification to the Champions League secrured, all first team players retained, and new signings brought in to improve the squad and starting XI; this has been the almost perfect summer.

Paddy finally comes home to Celtic

If last year’s Scott Sinclair signing seemed like a transfer saga at the time, this summer’s pursuit of Patrick Roberts has felt like the season finale of a box set blockbuster; with Paradise the setting of this particular epic.

Paddy Roberts returning to Celtic is, of course, far, far more exciting than anything TV can offer. Though with the move expected imminently throughout the past month, today’s news is met with almost as much relief as it is delight.If the reports and rumours are to be believed, the delay in concluding the transfer was caused by a mixture of Manchester City preferring the player to remain in England, or to move to Spain or France; Celtic attempting to finalise a permanent deal; and, ultimately, the two clubs negotiating upon a loan fee and Celtic’s wage contribution.

In the end the dream permanent transfer wasn’t to be, but, regardless, the outcome that the fans; the player; the club; and most importantly, Keiran Tierney, have been anxiously anticipating all summer has at last been realised.

It’s been a long time coming, but it was definitely worth the wait.

Paddy has finally come home to Celtic.

Champions League returns to Paradise

So last night was, erm, entertaining…

At 5-0 up going into the second leg nobody considered Astana to have a chance of qualifying for the group stage of the Champions League; including the Astana players going by the opening period of the game.

Celtic looked comfortable in possession and created plenty of chances in the early stages, whilst Astana sat off and surrendered possession as soon as they won it back. It was in stark contrast to the first leg, where Astana pressured Celtic high up the pitch and made life very uncomfortable for the first half an hour at Paradise.

Yesterday a deflected strike put Astana 1-0 in front on the night, although at 5-1 down overall it couldn’t really be classified as a lifeline. Soon afterwards Scott Sinclair curled in a delightful equaliser to further confirm the tie. Or so we all thought.

The second half began and within 5 minutes we were in complete panic. Astana scored twice inside 2 minutes and the makeshift defence, as well as Scott Brown, who had dominated the first leg and the first half, looked utterly lost. 

With Astana still requiring 4 goals to qualify it was disappointing to see the team lose their composure as they did; although the pressure on the players in these games is something I can only dream of imagining.

By the 70th minute it was 4-1 on the night and this was no longer a laughing matter. The thought of horror headlines regarding our most embarrassing defeat ever, and Europe’s most famous comeback began to creep into the imagination.

Fortunately, we are a vastly improved side on previous years, unrecognisable in some respects. Whilst we did crumble under the pressure for a period in the second half, when it really mattered the players reassured themselves and pushed on to put the tie beyond any doubt once and for all.

In Olivier Ntcham we appear to have a truly gifted player. His quick footwork, spatial awareness, power, and ability to find a pass are being demonstrated more and more each game. Ntcham’s goal on the 80th minute calmed everyone down, and finally knocked the stuffing out of the Astana players.

Leigh Griffiths’ finish in the 90th minute made amends for his earlier miss seconds before Astana fired in their 4th and made the scoreline on the night more respectable, and perhaps a truer reflection on a night were Celtic dominated the match but were severely punished for a shocking 25 minute spell.

Ultimately we could have pulled it back to a draw, and a 4-goal aggregate victory is a tremendous outcome for a Champions League play-off tie. The only disappointments come in our unbeaten run in all competitions ending; and how the players lost their way early in the second half, at times it really did appear that we were hanging on.

But, under Brendan Rodgers this Celtic side has learned from their mistakes at a phenomenal rate. The unbeaten run may have ended, but these players are used to winning, and certainly won’t have welcomed the taste of defeat. The mentality that drove us on to an invincible treble remains, the squad will be further strengthened, and we will once again be enjoying Europe’s elite competition in Paradise.

The good times just keep on coming. This is how it feels to be in the Champions League…

That was beautiful. That was magical. That was Celtic

Wow. Even the most confident of Celtic fans can not have been expecting quite such a phenomenal result as that.

Celtic 5-0 Astana.

Not only was the scoreline wonderful, but we also saw the return to his beautiful flying best from Scott Sinclair. Magical.

All credit to Nir Bitton. His lackadaisical style of play in midfield scares me; at the back recently he has terrified me. But he proved all his many doubters wrong this evening with a composed and ensured performance.

Special mention to Olivier Ntcham. Since his arrival Ntcham has looked extremely comfortable in possession of the ball, and indicated a real footballing brain with some of his turns and passing under pressure, but tonight he really stepped it up a gear. Always eager to get on the ball, regardless of the opposition closing him down, Olivier displayed exceptional footwork to get away from his marker. Only Tom Rogic can come close to close ball control like we saw from Ntcham tonight. Olivier already looks like he could be a great signing, and the style of European football certainly suits him.

After fairly tepid performance in the first half we found ourselves going in 2-0 up at the break. In the second half we came out flying, with James Forrest’s goal the pick of the bunch.

This is how it feels to be Celtic. This is beautiful. This is magical. This, is the Champions League