For me, the away game against Anderlecht in this campaign was always going to be the acid test as far as charting progress went.
Had we really made significant improvements under Brendan Rodgers or was our domestic dominance as much down to the ineptness of our opposition?
Safe to say I got the answer I was looking for and then some.
Celtic were fantastic. There is no other word for it. Yes Anderlecht are struggling and have a temporary manager etc. but that doesn’t belittle the fact that we didn’t just go there and win but actually completely dismantled a side who had won their domestic championship last season and who’d also reached the quarterfinals of the Europea League before taking Joe Mourinho’s excessively expensive to assemble Manchester United side to the wire.
For the first 30 mins, we were not at our best.
Once we crossed the halfway line we looked jittery and uncertain as well as misplacing too many passes.
Summer signing Olivier Ntcham, in particular, looked off the pace and too keen to be involved. Both his tackling and passing were poor to such an extent you wondered if he might make it to halftime without being hooked. But the fact remains we still controlled the ball. Indeed we had it for 70% of the time according to the possession statistics in that period which is almost identical to our domestic stats.
We also never really looked in any remote danger against an Anderlecht side whose attempts to press were being nullified by the ball being continuously passed by them.
As is often the case a goal settled us down.
Ntcham replayed Brendan Rodgers for leaving home on the pitch with a wonderful pass up the left wing which was met by the darting Tierney and the young full-back produced a wonderful ball across the face of the goal that Leigh Griffiths was waiting for at the back post to slam home the opener.
After that, there was really only one team in it.
Roberts pounced when the opposition defence dithered and got a bit of luck to put us two up and in the dying embers, Scott Sinclair produced a beautiful finish with his left peg to put the seal on a pretty fabulous performance for only our second win away from home in the Champions League group stages in 28 attempts.
Over the course of the game, we had 64% possession and 86% passing accuracy.
It was wonderful to behold and let’s be honest when have we ever controlled an away game in Europe against significant opposition like that?
The answer would be not in my lifetime at least.
Earlier in the qualifying stages, we got a taste of what was to come when we controlled the game away against an impressive Rosenborg side who have since eliminated last season’s Europe League runners-up Ajax from that very tournament. That night we won by only a solitary goal though passed up various other good chances.
This was similar but with more cutting edge.
Not only have we put our first points on the board but also showed there is definite progress from last season’s campaign where we could only register three draws from six games. It also puts us well and truly in the driving seat for a minimum 3rd placed finish and a parachute into the Europa League Last 32 which would mean post-Christmas European football for the first time in five years and in a tournament where our expectations would be far greater.
PSG hammered powerhouse Bayern Munich 3-0 at home in the other game putting an end to Carlo Ancelloti’s tenure in charge of the Bavarian giants in the process. The Parisians remain one of the red hot favourites to win the tournament.
Just over a fortnight ago I had the temptation to pen a long article pointing the enormous financial disparity between ourselves and PSG as a reflex defence reaction to the inevitable post-match criticism that was raining down after our opening group match humbling.
In the end, I never bothered.
If anyone can’t see it and not know it’s the reason why that happened then it’s just because they don’t want to.
PSG’s strikeforce cost around 420 million Euros to assemble, making a mockery of any pretences of ‘Financial Fair Play’ in the process.
Some claimed it was comparable to our financial superiority over most other Scottish clubs.
That’s a nonsensical suggestion peddled by many within the Scottish media including the usually sensible Tom English.
Our wealth has come out of shrewd wheeling and dealing in the transfer market, punching above our weight more often than not in Europe and critically via long-standing fanatical home support that sees us trump every other domestic club for season ticket sales every year. It isn’t sourced from a near faceless middle eastern sporting investment institution that is no more than a front for a royal family with bottomless pockets provided by endless oil wealth.
Our 17-year-old, £6 million record transfer fee is anywhere from 6-20 times more than most every other Scottish top-flight clubs record outlay outside of our Govan neighbours. PSG’s is 32 times more than our record fee. Their current strikeforce also cost about 210 times what our present premier striking options cost to assemble. So basically there is no comparison. Claiming there is is no more than willful ignorance.
That aside the further you go up the scale of financial capability the gap in what you can get widens. Buy a £100,000 house you’ll get a decent 2 bedrooms with a small garden. Spend £2 million you’ll get something approaching a mansion. More bedrooms, much more space and a far bigger garden but it’s still a house. Spend £40 million and then you can buy yourself your own private island on which you could fit umpteen mansions.
The difference between a Volkswagon and top of the range Ferrari is vast.
Both still drive on the same roads though.
Go up by the same proportions from the Ferrari to the next level and you’re buying a Learjet. It only needs a bit of runway before it takes off and flies through the air leaving every car, no matter what the manufacturer, way behind in the distance.
Against Anderlecht, Celtic came up against the sort of team against whom we can be both fairly tested and judged.
I think we can safely say we passed with flying colours.
For now, let’s just enjoy it. It doesn’t happen very often and never in that fashion.
Though maybe just maybe from here on out it becomes a more familiar experience.
“Oh, what a night. Late September back in ’17. What a very special time for me. As I remember, what a night.”
Days later, Paul Cassidy is still buzzing from an amazing evening in Anderlecht. We all are.