Celtic and the Champions League: An Uphill Battle
It’s no secret that Celtic have struggled in the UEFA Champions League for years, having lost 58.9% of their Champions League fixtures. Of course, they have lifted the trophy before, in the 1967 final where they beat Inter Milan, but will they ever come close to Champions League glory again?
While in recent years, they have managed to defeat Barcelona and Manchester United at Celtic Park, the team have a tendancy to struggle in Europe when playing away from home. Understandably, this has a lot of fans concerned. Last season, Ange Postecoglou’s entertaining style of football had the Celts putting up a fight in the group stage. Despite losing both home and away to European giants Real Madrid, the fans felt as though the games could’ve gone differently if Celtic had taken the chances they were presented with. This year, fans aren’t feeling the same way. With Brendan Rodgers back at the wheel, a lot of people seem to believe that the club are going backwards.
Admittedly, there is a stark difference between the quick style of ‘Angeball’ compared to the possessive nature of Brendan’s tactics, but surely that shouldn’t lead to the utter collapse of Celtic. So what really went wrong?
Looking back on Celtic’s opener against Feyenoord, the team lacked any shape from the get-go. When in possession, the build-up was painfully slow and the players seemed to lack any intensity. Reo Hatate made his return to the line-up after being benched in favour of David Turnbull recently, and although fans were excited to see his name in the starting 11, that quickly changed. Hatate wasn’t at his best that night and it began to show early on. It wasn’t helped by the fact that multiple other players underperformed – Palma, Kyogo and Maeda, just to name a few. Despite some fans not being happy with aspects of the performance, Celtic did go toe-to-toe with Feyenoord in the first 45 minutes. Surprisingly, it was like an entirely different team had stepped out for the second half though, leading many fans to wonder how much of a mental impact the hosts’ opener had on the Scottish side. Celtic crumbled after receiving two red cards, and although we could debate the decisions themselves, this opens up a whole new can of worms about the squad’s experience.
Celtic’s squad is clearly lacking Champions League experience. With a lot of key players’ only UCL experience that of being at Celtic, it’s no surprise that they may make a few mistakes. Holm and Lagerbielke both made reckless challenges that could’ve been easily avoided. While the suspensions will have an impact on the team, it is good experience of what not to do, and hopefully they will avoid such mistakes in future matches.
It’s obvious that Celtic are aiming for a younger squad with signings such as Palma, Holm, and Bernardo, and the reality of that is sometimes having to accept a loss in the beginning. While a loss with an inexperienced squad may not be cause for concern at this moment in time, it will be if they don’t improve. This is the type of experience that these players need. Playing for one of the biggest clubs in the United Kingdom. Playing in a packed out stadium, with fans pushing you forward. This is how these players grow, and Celtic fans need to be behind the team all the way. Otherwise, this uphill battle will be ten times more difficult.
It will be interesting to see the progression of Celtic’s project as time goes on, and fans will hope that the team can gel quickly. Celtic’s next Champions League game is against Lazio at Celtic Park, on Wednesday, October 4th, at 20:00. The Bhoys will be hoping to pick up their first points in the Champions League this season, but will they be up for the challenge?