Amongst Celtic fans, the real topic of discussion, and the one that matters ahead of the looming war with the SFA is this; what will it take for us to get something at home tonight against PSG in the first Group game in the Champions League?
The short answer, the one I hear often, is “a miracle.”
It’s funny, and I would never knock our fans showing a little self-deprecating humour. Regardless of what some gibbering loons on the other side of the city think, the vast majority of our fans are keeping a tight hold of their expectations. We’re not letting them get away from us, as some tend to do when they’ve had one good result.
Celtic’s qualification campaign was a triumph of how far we’ve come as a team. There’s little doubt that we’re better than we were this time last year, when the hiding from Barcelona loomed in front of us. This team isn’t Barcelona, but they’re capable of playing football like them, with short clipped passes, with pace, and with the players up top who can be clinical.
But other sides have come to Celtic Park boasting similar, and gone home without as much as a point. The ground itself will become a living thing for 90 minutes tonight. That will give our side a jolt. It may even give theirs one.
Don’t count on any member of their team showing complacency, and in particular don’t think for one second that Neymar will. This guy is used to playing in white hot atmospheres and has the professionalism not to switch off for a second.
And that’s why the first thing we need to get a result tonight is discipline. Every one of our players must be ready for anything. The team has to keep its shape. It has to make PSG work. It has to frustrate their front men and try to blunt their fearsome attack. If we keep our discipline there is a chance that they will lose theirs; other managers have told of how they seem to drop their focus when their sexy football fails to yield early results.
They will have most of the ball. That’s a given. They will attack us from the start. They may try to kill the game early. If we stand up to their initial pressure the game will settle into an easier rhythm and then we will have chances of our own.
But weathering that early period will be critical. No-one gives us a chance tonight; that’s the advantage we have to press home. If our players can keep cool under pressure, and believe in themselves and each other – if we’ve got the heart for it, and genuinely don’t write ourselves off – then this can be one of those history making evenings. It’s going to take guts to stand up to that early pressure and not get rattled … but PSG’s stars aren’t the only footballers on the field who’ve played in massive games. Every player in our side can look back on major moments, when the chips were down and they delivered.
Leigh Griffiths’ goals against England. Scott Sinclair’s early penalty at Ibrox. Patrick Roberts, finally taking the stage in the Etihad and silencing it after just four minutes. Scott Brown, imperious, cool in the heat of any battle. Kieran Tierney. Anywhere, everywhere, all day, every day. That kid has (green) ice water in his veins. We have the players to do it.
The last thing we need is luck; let’s not kid ourselves here, just gutting it out isn’t necessarily going to cut it. We’re going to need to get those wee breaks of the ball that are crucial in a major match where you’re spectacularly outgunned.
Luck is the ball that Neymar chips over the keeper but comes back off the crossbar. It’s that moment when a Forrest cross hits a defender on the head and instead of spinning out for a corner the ball goes backwards and drops in front of Sinclair.
It’s a big ask, all of it, to hope that not only is our own team up to snuff but that the Big Man Upstairs is smiling on us at the same time.
But it’s not impossible, and it won’t take a miracle.
Whether we get the result or night, this is the stage we belong on.
Enjoy your night troops.