Celtic won their third pre-season friendly tonight with a victory over NK Olimpija Ljubljana
The first thing you notice about this team is the way they close the ball down.
There’s a moment that summed the first half up; their team had the ball with eight men in the vicinity, deep inside their own half. Celtic’s players matched them player for player and we took the ball from them. It’s a long time since I saw so many Celtic players play the high line game.
It seems what we were promised by Ronny is being resurrected and actually rigorously applied.
It will pay dividends unless it ultimately proves to be just as short-lived as Deila’s brief flirtation with it … but I think it’s here to stay.
It was one such moment that gave us our first chance of the game, through Dembele. Griffiths went in on the keeper, his clearance was panicked and it fell to the new boy. He drove at the defence and found the space to get a shot off. It wasn’t enough to really test the keeper but it was a good early example of his direct style and the way closing down can pay off.
It was closing down that got him another chance on the 20th minute after a superb pass from Bitton after our midfield had won the ball back brilliantly. The pass found our two strikers running onto the ball. The keeper spotted the danger quickly; he came out and narrowed the angle, got the first touch on the ball. Dembele looks a handful. He attempted a scissor kick on the 40th minute which went high and wide but you have to applaud the ambition and imagination to have a go at it.
He can spot a run and holds the ball well.
It’s early doors, but there were one or two glimpses which suggest he and Leigh could form a very fruitful striking partnership.
The big striker is clearly alert.
On 26 minutes we took the lead, courtesy of Griffiths and it was more excellent closing down that caused it. A square pass between two of their defenders gave him a flicker of goal and he nipped in, and fired the shot into the back of the net. Typically clinical, but a result of that pressing game.
The second thing you notice about this team is the way the full-backs play.
These guys attack down the line, increasing the potency of the attacks.
Our lack of wide midfielders – we seemed to be playing three in the middle and one as an anchor, it’s hard to tell as the shape is constantly changing, but Bitton did seem to be playing behind the rest– has, in part anyway, inspired the need for this … but it looks like it could work. Janko is naturally attack minded and Tierney looks accomplished as a wing back.
It was those running full-backs who helped us create a chance on the 30th minute, when Tierney took a neat pass from Henderson, got past his man and whipped a ball into the box which would have been deadly had someone met it. A minute later, the kid himself cut inside and took on a pass and he hit a neat shot at the keeper.
I enjoyed the first half. We played within ourselves, but we handled it well.
The team came out for the second half without changes, which was a slight surprise.
It certainly surprised the opposition because we were almost 2-0 up within a minute after another superb pass found Dembele in the area. He weaved past a defender and his a good shot across the goal, which was cleared by one of the home team’s players.
Just a few minutes later they had their best chance of the game up until then when their right midfielder got a cross in. One of the midfielders ran in on the ball but his shot didn’t even test Craig Gordon. It was a sign that our boys needed to keep their concentration levels up.
Ljubljana kept pressing. They hit a long range shot on 55 minutes, giving us further reason to be wary.
But just a minute later, it seemed like it was over. Leigh Griffiths scored the second goal, and it was just beautiful. He took the ball out wide, cut inside and from about 20 yards out he arched a left footed shot past the keeper. It was another fantastic finish.
Yet minutes later the home team was back in the game, when they made it 2-1.
I thought our defence should have done better, with Ambrose in particular looking flat-footed for the goal, which was a straight up shot fron inside the box.
On 60 minutes we were almost 3-1 up when Dembele threaded an excellent ball through to Tierney. He went by his man and hit an acute angle shot at the keeper, who turned it behind for the corner. It was hard not to get the impression that we were upping a gear.
That was when the manager made his changes; Dembele came off for Ciftic. Brown came off and Christie came on. Izzy came on for Kiernan and Rogic came on for Henderson. Other changes were to follow; Allen, Roberts, O’Connell, Ajer, McGregor and Ralston all came on ten minutes later and Bailly came on for Gordon with around ten minutes to go.
The changes seemed to have impacted on the performance somewhat, but it didn’t stop us creating chances of our own.
On 66 minutes we hit the crossbar, after a brilliant run from Ciftci who’s lay-off found Christie. He had the whole goal to aim it, but he cracked it off the crossbar. It was an excellent move though and showed us what Ciftci is capable of. Young Christie was unlucky not to score and he had another good chance when the keeper saved on the 75th minute.
Ljubljana were the better team going into the closing ten minutes. They should have equalised right on the 80th when their striker headed the ball over the bar, with our defence pretty much left standing there. Had this been a competitive game the nails would have been getting bitten.
We should have wrapped it up in a bow on 83 minutes when Ryan Christie and Roberts combined brilliantly to open up their defence. Young Ryan sent a shot across the goal which ought to have wound up in the net. It was tremendous move, and a sign of what these two might be capable of next season.
Football is about partnerships. Theirs is fairly new, as is the one between Leigh and Moussa. Yet both already appear promising. We have great young players in the attacking positions. They have good feet, and pace. We know Griffiths has an eye for goal and his record suggests that Dembele does too. Christie and Roberts are both capable of scoring goals. That’s a winning combination. I think we can all be excited about it.
One last thing; this was a pre-season game, but that ought not to give opposition players the license to kick our players all over the park. Yet that’s exactly what the referee allowed them to do. One incident towards the end of the game, where one of their players kicked a Celtic player as he lay on the ground, would have resulted in a straight red card in a domestic match. He was allowed to get off scott free. The ref further incensed the Celtic contingent by booking one of our players in the last minute.
It was a shocker, and summed up his poor officiating overall.
I wondered, at several points, if he was on loan from the SFA.
This wasn’t a bad nights work.
There were a few scares – we definitely need at least one additional central defensive player – but overall I enjoyed it.
We got the win, we deserved the win, and it’s Rodgers second in a row.