Charlie Mulgrew calls for major tactical change for Celtic in Champions League

Charlie Mulgrew has revealed that he worked twice as hard as the great Lionel Messi on the night Celtic recorded one of their greatest ever European results – even though he hardly touched the ball!

Celtic take on Feyenoord on Wednesday night as another dismal season in the Champions League draws to a close. Brendan Rodgers will ask his players to reward the Celtic support who have waited a decade for a home win in this competition, a shocking statistic for a club of Celtic’s standing in the game.

07.11.2012 Glasgow, Scotland. Charlie Mulgrew and Marc Bartra in action during the Champions League game between Celtic and Barcelona from Celtic Park.

It’s a far cry from the 2012-13 season – the last time they made it to the Champions League knock-out stages, under Neil Lennon. Not only did Celtic comfortably make it out of the group with ten points, including home and away wins over Spartak Moscow, but they also sent shockwaves around the world by beating a Barcelona side in it’s absolute prime, 2-1 at Celtic Park.

Charlie Mulgrew recalls running his heart out that night, managing to thwart the passing prowess of Andres Iniesta while goals by Victor Wanyama and Tony Watt sent the Hoops into dreamland. And during the euphoria after the final whistle, he had to pinch himself when he looked at the running stats.

“I ran 14km and Messi did 6km – we got told stats days after the game. That just shows you the amount of running we did compared to the Barcelona players, because they had all the ball. Don’t get me wrong I’d love to had more of the ball but we had to understand the level of opposition we were up against and find a way,” Mulgrew said, speaking to Luckyblock.com.

07.11.2012 Glasgow, Scotland. Tony Watt and Charlie Mulgrew in action during the Champions League game between Celtic and Barcelona from Celtic Park.

And despite both Ange Postecoglou and now Brendan Rodgers attempting to play their domestic style of football in the Champions League, Mulgrew reckons that needs to be re-thought as he argues that Celtic’s best chance of making a similarly big impact in Europe again is to play the same way against the top teams from across Europe.

“I think the secret is understanding that you can control the game without majority of possession,” the former Celtic star stated. “I was playing left midfield. If Iniesta had the ball I would be in beside the central midfield players so they couldn’t pass it through the middle of us.

“It was about making them pass it wide and then I was sprinting out to double up with the left back so he wouldn’t get beaten, then it would be passed back inside, so I would sprint back inside to cover the middle again.

“I spent the entire game just doing shuttle runs in and out, blocking space. It was really hard shift knowing your won’t get the ball. It required alot of patience. But the longer the game went on without them scoring, we’re thinking hold on a minute can we get something from this game.

“I remember when Tony Watt scored to make it 2-0 in the 85th minute, Neil Lennon turned to the bench and said ‘I would take a draw now’.”

The 44-capped former Scotland defender, now 37, said it was sometimes a relief to just sit back without the pressure of having to break down stuffy defences as was often the case domestically.

“In the Champions League we played a different kind of football. We accepted that we weren’t going to have the ball and we just let them come at us and we sat and basically defended our own half.

“Against Barca that night the possession stats were 89-11 so you can clearly see we totally accepted we weren’t going to have the ball and when you accept that then there’s a comfort in that. We’d say let’s just defend and we’ll wait for an opportunity and the crowd seemed to understand that as well.

“It’s about controlling the game. People automatically think that to control the game you need possession. But you can control the game out of possession by dictating where they are with the ball, for example not getting behind you – you’re stopping that space in front and through the middle to make them go round the outside.

07.11.2012 Glasgow, Scotland. Tony Watt and Victor Valdes in action during the Champions League game between Celtic and Barcelona from Celtic Park.

“It was very refreshing to play in the Champions League because all the pressure was off and it we were always under dogs. Plus we had the quality at the other end to nick a goal. It’s about having that belief that the chances will come.

“You might not get ten chances but if you’re patient you’ll get two of three breakaways or set pieces.”

That approach may well be the way to go going forward but not for tomorrow night where Celtic take on the Dutch Champions who certainly could be beaten by this Celtic team if we can hit some form and perhaps get a slice of luck for a change.

Brendan Rodgers during a press conference at the Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, on November 6, 2023,

The two heavy defeats in Madrid over the past two seasons though certainly indicate that Mulgrew has a very valid point when Celtic are away from home agains these top sides. And Brendan Rodgers suffered bad defeats in his first spell at the club in Paris and Barcelona too, so Charlie Mulgrew certainly makes a valid point which is well worthy of consideration.

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor, who has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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