Catch Us If You Can

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Aberdeen won on Saturday to go joint top with us. Celtic won on Sunday to open up the gap.

This season is turning into a nice little game of “catch us if you can.”

With a game still in hand we’re three points clear. Win that and the gap is six points.

But before that happens, we’re heading into the biggest league game of the season… we’re about to take the Dons on at Celtic Park next Sunday.

It’s going to be a cracker.

Celtic’s domestic form is excellent. The second half against Hamilton was great, with the team showing a real cutting edge.

The football we play is scintillating at times, the sort Ronny Deila must have dreamed about when he arrived at Parkhead.

There is real potential in this side now.

What I find most impressive, however, is what Ronny had to say in the aftermath of the brilliant Inter Milan match last week.

He refused to apologise for the team conceding three times. He rejected, out of hand, the idea that Celtic ought to be focussed on defence.

Every Celtic manager of recent times has tried to keep it tight against these bigger sides … but Ronny Deila is determined that Celtic will always try to be an offensive team.

“Has anyone ever tried it?” he asked. The answer, at least in the modern age, is a resounding no.

Instead, Celtic teams have sat back and tried to hit on the break against these sides, offering them the opportunity to dominate possession, turning 90 minutes into a test of endurance.

When it has worked – as it did against Barcelona at Celtic Park, in that thrilling, memorable evening – it has been hailed as a work of genius.

When it fails – as it did against the same club, and against Juventus – it can make for uncomfortable viewing.

This new strategy won’t always work, and we’re going to need our defenders to be absolutely on the top of their game. The other night, I thought the high defensive line for the third goal was suicidal; we invited that by having too many players too far forward … but it’s clear enough that it’s never going to be boring to watch.

Part of me hopes we don’t try it in Milan.

That game is winnable – I actually do believe that – but doing so will probably mean playing more defensively than Deila is used to.

Yet, I can’t help but think that the manager is definitely on to something when he talks about us standing a better chance in these games if we have a go.

Indeed, the need for a win explicitly rules out the very notion of sitting back during the 90 minutes … we need to go at them.

I can’t be the only person who simultaneously feels nervous and excited about that prospect.

If Aberdeen are playing “Catch Us If You Can” then in Italy we’ll be the ones trying to do it.

This team’s success won’t be judged on whether we can knock the Milanese giants out of Europe – that will be decided on how we do domestically – but what a scalp it would be.

Key to all this could the team selection. I doubt that Ronny will leave top players out of the Inter game to keep them fit for Aberdeen, but we have a squad which allows a certain amount of flexibility. The midfield is one area where this could easily be done, but who do you leave out and who do you put in?

Will the same starting eleven be up to the task of winning both games, within the space of a few days?

Away European games often made for tough follow up matches.

It’s an exhilarating time to be a Celtic supporter, and it must be a tremendous time to be Celtic boss.

Ronny Deila has a great opportunity to sweep the boards in Scotland, as well as planting our flag in Europe.

The next few four weeks will tell the tale.

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