Well, if you can’t take pride from a performance like that away from home in Europe then you’re a hard fan to please.
It was a rollercoaster of a ride with a decimated squad. Square pegs in round holes, cramping muscles and stories of what might have been alongside what was. Tonight, Celtic played in 27-degree heat and at times left our acclimatised opposition sweating buckets.
Yes, the team at times as a defensive unit were disjointed to say the least, but with a right back playing left back, a right back just back from injury and two central defenders who are barely acquainted, it is worth considering where this defensive unit can go rather than where they are. What Ange would give for a settled injury free defensive line.
Meanwhile further ahead Ismaila Soro replaced the captain and defended from twenty minutes in on a last warning and with an opposition begging him to step out of line. And while the Celtic support around the watching world called for a defensive midfield substitution halfway through the first half, Soro stood strong and produced a superb supporting role before eventually succumbing to fatigue rather than the expected indiscipline.
Further forward is where the crux of Celtic’s problem really lies. Both Turnbull and Rogic – how good was he tonight – are out and out number 10’s. And while that hurt the opposition and then some this evening, their defensive indiscipline and lack of box-to-box capabilities are found wanting when the opposition counter at pace. For both players they’d argue that is not their game, yet for a team playing this system then one or both have to perform the graft alongside the craft. In Scotland they’ll more than suffice in every home game and six out of twelve away, in Europe those odds drop significantly.
And what of the players who replaced the likes of Kyogo and Forrest? Superb to a man. Montgomery is a Celtic player and tonight he arrived. No fear, superb control, real endeavour and a fan with a shirt. Meanwhile Jota shifted position and looked every inch the entertainer we crave, and with a final product not always anticipated by his teammates and one that looked lacking on Saturday at home to Ross County.
And what of Ajeti? A predator appears. The one prior to injury and a lack of gametime that raised his head above the parapet last season. Tonight, a goal, a penalty won, evidence of hold up play and just that something different you want from a striking alternative to your regular number nine. He mixed it, he shifted it and he constantly was a thorn in the side of the opposition.
And then the goalkeeper, the captain tonight and the man who produced big saves at important times that kept us in the game. He’ll complain he was left exposed at times and there is no doubt he was, but in time and with games and conditioning he will have a settled back four in front of him. Carter-Vickers and Starfelt is that defensive partnership. In time Ralston and Taylor will be able to fill the full back roles and soon the defensive line will learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses and settle down, more than they’ve been able to do with the stop-start, in-out nature of what we’ve seen so far.
And you might ask where does Josip Juranović fit into this team. Signed as a full back, with previous experience as an attacking midfielder, this lad is the number six who can let Callum McGregor move up field into the left sided eight role he needs to play, a move that can allow Postecoglou to play either/or of Turnbull and Rogic beside the captain and bring that craft to the fore, and in turn have an ideal balance to a midfield three that would allow Jota, Kyogo and Forrest to rotate with Mikey Johnston, Liel Abada and Albian Ajeti.
Celtic lost tonight in Seville to a decent side but one with frailties we exposed, and we did so with a team stripped near to the bone. When players return and others bed in, we’ll play Betis again on the 9th of December. If that is likely to be a shoot-out for second place this team will be more than ready.
As for tonight? Well, that was just the start. Entertainment, goals galore and a sieve for a defence, but we’re getting there, and when we do revenge will be served cold in Glasgow come December.