Celtic’s Problems In Europe Won’t Come From The Back But Further Up The Field.

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One of the recurring themes we come to on this site over and over when watching Celtic in Europe is how little we show our teeth up front. This was much more obvious last season, under Ange, when we were blazing our way through the SPFL teams … this season we’re not quite up to speed yet. But when we are, we’ll need to be better than last night.

For once, I will give credit to the guys at The Celtic Way, who wrote an article echoing my own thinking on this earlier on.

We have really good footballers at the top end of the pitch. But their composure seems to go when they play on the bigger stage of Europe. It’s not just that we don’t finish the chances that we create; we don’t create enough of those chances in the first place. And I have to be honest, that concerns me more than any so-called defensive lapses do.

The thing is, there’s no clear way to fix this except just to have better players. Or to change the playing system so much that it makes us virtually unrecognisable. And if we did that, of course, we would probably need new players to do it.

European teams are better organised with far better players than the sides we play in Scotland.

A team like Feyenoord can come to Celtic Park, line up in a defensive formation like most of our opponents here at home do, and make it virtually impossible for us to break through them playing our normal style of football … and at the same time, play devastating football on the break. Our only answer to that would be to change entirely how we play.

Last night we did almost everything right. We got in their faces. We didn’t let them settle down and into their rhythm. We pushed them back when they expected to be going forward … and we tried to play our way to a result. And we did it well. But we created few chances and found it very difficult to get behind their lines.

We have to do a lot of things better, and last night there was a lot of concern over what we might do at the back. But Scales was immense and before his sending off I thought Lagerbeikle handled himself very well. Taylor put in his usual shift and Alastair Johnston was typically excellent. The midfield worked its socks off.

But the killer passes we needed from them were not there.

The final ball to cut their defences open was lacking. I would be less concerned about this if the same problem hadn’t arisen in our second season under Ange, when we played games on the front foot, at 100 miles per hour.

And the thing is, that problem didn’t afflict us the season before.

In Ange’s first campaign, we lost in the Champions League against Midtjylland, but from the moment we were in the Europa League we were scoring regularly. The problem is, we were also conceding goals regularly.

We scored seven and lost two in the games against Jablonec. We scored three and lost two against AZ. In the Groups the stats say it all. We won nine points (and didn’t qualify) scoring 13 times in six games. That’s a great ratio for European football. But we also conceded 15. Which is why we ultimately went out. No issues scoring though.

But in the Champions League Group of last season, in spite of a lot of confidence that we could outgun the Ukrainians and even the Germans we scored only four … and still conceded 15. So that didn’t work at all. What we’d been doing the previous year was no good to us when we got to the bigger stage. We were expected to get points in that group … and it was a huge let down.

And that’s what worries me at the moment; that nagging question about Champions League defences being a little too good for us. It will continue to haunt me until we prove we’ve got the beating of one of them.

We know they can hurt us going forward, that was something we were fully aware of and able to deal with … our fate will be decided on whether or not we can create, and convert, enough chances of our own.

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  • Don Stewart says:

    I thought Macgregor and O’Riley did work their socks off in midfield, but Hatate was miles off it. But working hard was not enough, we ended up losing the majority of balls in midfield and got outmuscled, they were far too strong for us in the middle of the park. We look a very small team physically which is probably not the best in Europe. O’Neill gave us our last good run in Europe with a powerhouse side.

  • Pedro71 says:

    Well said, go buy better. Everything is rubbish time to buy better, and when you have done that go buy more better and when you have done that go buy better, when you show your profits ? then I will buy better, James not everyone who reads your blog grew up like you, please understand the basic celtic supporters grew up without your university wisdom, please learn how to talk supporters language please.

  • Frank says:

    two wide men hugging the shy lines and kyogo totally isolated notwithstanding the poor distribution from Mid will never get it done, That must be the worst Reo has played since joining us. The number of wasted passes he made early in the match was really poor. That said we should have been going in at halftime in front cos we created the better chances but as you say no composure and wrong decision making at the wrong moment

  • Johnno says:

    Agreed to a degree James.
    Don’t do stats as just can be to misleading at times.
    Ange played a high risk, high tempo brand of football that did create chances but weren’t taken.
    Yet we offered up way too many and got punished moreso against far better quality.
    That mindset seems to have changed to making games about big moments with a slower tempo to our build up play, along with less attacking intensity, with fewer bigger goal scoring chances being created so far.
    Think we are struggling to adapt presently, and not convinced it suits ourselves either.
    We have to use the football far better, if we intend to stick with such a policy, and wasn’t on show last night as we only had scraps to feed upon, and never really looking like scoring either.
    Understand what your saying James about doing reasonable well without the football, especially when you would expect us to have less possession especially away from home within the CL.
    Yet we will struggle to get results with the balance so wrong with us being so poor in possession.
    Is trying a counter attacking game going to be our limits this season, and getting a return better return of 2 points, and trying to claim improvements have been achieved?
    Hoping we still have far bigger ambition than that within the CL, but hardly too encouraging in what was on show last night imo

  • Clachnacuddin and the Hoops says:

    Gonna be tight to get third but still got a little hope for managing it !

  • Pcelt says:

    Reality is,several players are just not good enough to compete against European opposition, they look good against poor spl teams but are woefully lacking in Europe.

  • Johnny Green says:

    Yes, we are not clinical enough up front in Europe. My first impression of OH, when he arrived, was that he is not good enough to lead the line, and sadly that opinion hasn’t changed. He’s just okay, but sadly he will never reach the heights that Celtic require of him. A new striker should have been acquired during the close season and now we will have to wait until January before that can happen. Let’s hope Kyogo doesn’t get crocked before then as he is absolutely essential for us up front domestically and in Europe.

  • SSMPM says:

    It’s easy to put it down to some kind of nervous anxiety offensively, build up and startled in front of goal. A proper good finisher though is what we don’t have. Kyogo has a quality of his own but he’s no Larsson, or not yet. Larsson at the start was not as complete as Larsson at the end. Maeda too has his own style, worth £25m some say. The hope is BR can develop and sharpen them in that department.
    I think and hope it’s more about settling into that level through the experience. Sadly if we do get them there we’ll reap little team benefit if we then simply sell them off. The CL is seems to me would be the market level our board would love to advertise our Bhoys for sale in and on a regular basis. So there’s no real win in it for us except we’re at CL level. The board will have step it up though to remain here on a more regular basis.
    So sure we’re firing blanks up front and that needs attending too but we let in 2 last night and were lucky it wasn’t more so the whole team needs to be upgraded and with slightly more expensive projects I’d say. HH

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