Celtic v Leverkusen Preview: Almost, But Not Quite Mission Impossible

Celtic entertain a Bayer Leverkusen side tomorrow night in Match Day two of the Europa League group stages. And having opened up Group G with a highly credible performance in Seville going down 4-3 to Real Betis, in a game not many gave Celtic a cat’s chance in hell, Ange Postecoglou and his injury ravaged squad will be looking to a passionate home crowd to inspire them to a home win under the Parkhead lights in a game where they are once again being written off.

Celtic v AZ Alkmaar – Photo Andrew Milligan

And to be fair the opposition have probably earned that level of expectation considering they have started the season scoring 22 goals in eight games across all competitions, currently lie second top of the Bundesliga, boast a squad estimated in value at £317million, have the hottest early season property in European football, and have a team managed by former Young Boys head coach Gerardo Seoane that has only tasted defeat once this season, and even then that was to Dortmund where they lost only by the odd goal in seven. Are you sitting comfortably? Nope me neither. Yet there is hope for Celtic tomorrow.

Leverkusen – The season so far:

Leverkusen began their season with a predictable 3-0 win in the German Cup to fourth tier Lok Leipzig before making a faltering start to their Bundesliga campaign with a 1-1 draw away to Union Berlin. Yet any concerns their new manager may take time to get his methods across, having only joined the club in the summer, were soon dispelled as Borussia Monchengladbach were thumped 4-0 at home and then followed up with a 4-1 away win against Augsburg. Then came that first defeat of the season going down 4-3 to Dortmund at the BayArena.

Yet confidence was in no way dented as this was followed up with an impressive 3-1 win away from home to VFB Stuttgart and subsequently a 1-0 home win over Mainz on Saturday. Meanwhile their opening Europa League fixture saw another win as Ferencvaros were defeated 2-1 on home soil.

Leverkusen – How they line up and the ones to watch:

Bayer Leverkusen, as so many sides do these days, operate a 4-2-3-1 formation and the good news for any opposition analyst is they have never deviated from that formation all season, and I guess with a record as they’ve achieved this season there is no reason that is going to change when they visit Celtic Park.

Yet whilst some teams use this formation as a solid defensive base from which to build counter attacking football, Leverkusen utilise the adaptability of the system better than most as an attacking outlet.

This is a team who believe on getting on the front foot and taking the game to the opposition and they do it with a series of rotational plays designed to keep the opposition guessing, moving opposing players outside their comfort zones and creating space to exploit.

Patrik Schick

For Celtic this will be particularly worrying as the wide players, likely to be Moussa Diaby and Paulinho are adept at moving inside and across the backline and also of going wide. They like to drive a wedge between full backs and central defenders and have up front the focal point and bullying physical presence of former Celtic target Patrik Schick – it may be David Marshall will listen to this one on the radio rather see the face of the man who beat him from the halfway line so soon – to keep those central defenders busy and allow the wide players and the playmaker to weave the patterns and open the space.

And in that number 10 role is the man-child who has Leverkusen fans asking Kai who? As Florian Wirtz, Havertz successor following his move to Chelsea, rips up a series of statistical records as he makes his way in the game despite only being 18 years of age. Already a German international, already a player with four goals and four assists from five Bundesliga games and already a player being talked of in the £100m bracket as Bayern Munich sniff around, it’s safe to say this is a kid we’d all love to watch, but will be hoping he has an overdue off night tomorrow.

1 0 for Leverkusen by Florian Wirtz Leverkusen , goal celebration cheer run, Jeremie Frimpong Leverkusen

And of course, there are attacking full backs who also like to drive diagonally across the pitch as well as bomb up the touchline, in former PSG, and rumoured Celtic target last season, Mitchel Bakker and our very own (or at least he was) Jeremie Frimpong who appears to start every Leverkusen encounter by being tasked with driving at the opposition defence from the first whistle. The movement and interchanging of positions all over the pitch is likely to be a tough ask for this Celtic side but the attacking endeavour of Leverkusen also gives Celtic hope.

Where Celtic can impose our game:

Leverkusen as good an attacking side as they are a young team and one who is still bedding in a new defence. The two midfield pivots behind the number 10 do seem to also like to get forward as the attacking play progresses and this is certainly an area of the field that could suit Celtic’s style of play.

This slight lack of discipline in their play is probably because the two deeper midfielders are concerned about gaps between the forward line and midfield, but in turn when they move up there is a gap created between the central defenders and their protectors. With Tom Rogic and David Turnbull filling that space for Celtic there may be joy to be had, particularly so if one or both of Bayer’s full backs Bakker and Frimpong are also committed to forward areas.

Jota celebrates scoring. Photo Andrew Milligan

As such both Jota and Abada may find their abilities to get on the ball could come to the fore and they may be able to do so with some time and space to work on. In fact, in a game where the opposition push up so much there may be an argument for playing someone like Abada through the middle in a striking role, rather than the less mobile Albian Ajeti, yet frustratingly that option may not be possible with insufficient cover on the right wing meaning Liel Abada is needed elsewhere.

Liel Abada celebrates Photo: Andrew Milligan

There is however hope Celtic can create attacking opportunities tomorrow night and as such another open and attacking entertaining encounter could await, and much like the Betis encounter a fortnight ago, going toe to toe with the opposition may be far more beneficial than sitting in and hoping to counter.

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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