Celtic Eyes on AZ Alkmaar – It could be Beautiful, but Sunday at the ‘den of no equity’ can wait

As with every time the sides meet the Glasgow Derby build up lasts from the minute the final whistle goes in the previous league encounter until the referee signals the start of affairs the following week. And so it seems has been the case this week, except this particular week there is arguably a more important encounter to be played out this evening.

One of the mistakes Celtic have made amongst many in the last few years is appearing to operate a footballing business plan that involves remaining ahead of a domestic rival when perhaps a wiser vision would have been to benchmark against European teams (like Benfica for example you got the Champions League spot from the path that Celtic were on) build a side that could compete in that environment and assume if you did so efficiently and sustainably then the domestic game and dominance in it would go hand in hand.

Highlights from both legs of the Champions League Play-off between Benfica and PSV are below. We’d have had to have beaten FC Midtjylland then PSV, then Benfica to have reached the Group stages of this season’s Champions League and it was that tough because we failed to beat theRangers to the Scottish Premiership last season.

These two sides, Benfica and PSV are benchmarks worth looking at…

Last season as we all know imploded, yet the warning signs of a decline in standards and ambition were clear from how few times we graced the top table of Champions League football with our presence, and how rarely we were suitably prepared by the time the qualifiers came around. This year has been no different but we can all hope that is simply a residual effect of a certain set-in-his-ways CEO going stale and his micro managed departments still working, to some extent at least, to his out of date and dreadfully out of touch playbook.

The delay in appointing a new manager would now be looked back upon with revisionism as a vast majority of the support as well as a Board would have been happy to wait for Eddie Howe to commit. Now, with the benefit of shared learning, neither side would make the mistake of being strung along quite so desperately again but such delays have impacted on this season.

 Celtic new manager Ange Postecoglou poses for a photo at Celtic Park Glasgow. Picture date: Friday June 25, 2021. Photo: Jeff Holmes

In his place we now have Ange Postecoglou and whilst the new manager was not in post with sufficient time to influence Champions League football, as again the groundwork in timely recruitment was posted missing, you get the impression the ultimate Ange plan is not to be satisfied with home ground humpings of the likes of Dundee and St Mirren, as pleasing as they may be at this juncture.

And whisper it, nor will he be happy to benchmark against a financial basket case of a club at the “den of no equity” (copyright Celtic Noise poster) across the City at least not in the long term. This manager appears to have a belief his methods will be effective on any stage against any club and to test that fully and ensure his confidence in his vision is evidenced he’ll wish to do that on the European stage.

 AZ Alkmaar s Bruno Martins Indi during the pre-match warm up ahead of the UEFA Europa League Play-off, first leg match at Celtic Park, Photo Andrew Milligan

Tonight against Alkmaar, Ange’s reborn Celts face their toughest test to date and arguably a tougher opponent than they will face on Sunday. Yet should they negotiate this tie Ange will have the opportunity to take his developing side into six Europa League group stage matches, and in that environment really start to benchmark his side against suitable opponents.

He may even see it now as a blessing in disguise to lose to FC Midtjylland , as should Celtic qualify they will have a season in a European environment of a lesser standard but still containing excellent teams in which to prepare his side for what he’ll be keen to ensure is Champions’ League Group stage football next season.

Ahead of this is an opponent with a similar outlook to football and although perhaps a little slower than Celtic in their build up through the first two thirds of a football pitch, AZ Alkmaar’s gameplan is to spring to life in the final third. Whilst some managers may well pragmatically consider a defensive counter attacking approach in such a tie, particularly when protecting a two-goal lead, Ange Postecoglou has indicated he feels that will simply invite pressure and as such will press the Dutch side high and impact their abilities to slowly build towards our area. As such this should be both an entertaining and stress inducing second leg play off encounter but as with most of the season so far, it’s going to be entertaining!

Celtic v AZ Alkmaar – Kyogo Doing His Thing. Photo Andrew Milligan

This will be an early and robust test to see if Postecoglou’s methods translate from the domestic game to the European stage. Such an approach is also an early indication that Postecoglou is not in Scotland to remove a rival from their perch, he is here to supply the Celtic support with a team who will be judged on the European stage and not simply in a two-horse domestic race. It appears an indication Ange himself is aware if this Celtic side can compete in Europe, then the noisy neighbours will be taken care of as a by-product of European success.

And whilst the build-up back home Scotland already has this encounter with Alkmaar as a support act for Sunday’s headliner you get the impression negotiating this tie and entering group stage European competition is vital for the development for Ange Postecoglou and this Celtic side. As such whilst the Derby is all consuming back home, in Alkmaar Ange Postecoglou has bigger fish to fry.

Niall J

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About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parhead's gates.

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