In all fairness to Gordon Strachan, he is arguably Celtic’s most successful manager in European competition since Jock Stein when it comes to the European Cup, if you discount Martin O’Neill’s exploits in the UEFA Cup.
Having managed Celtic from 2005-2009, Strachan managed Celtic to two Round-of-16 fixtures in as many years; advancing ahead of giants such as Benfica, Shakhtar Donetsk and Copenhagen along the way. In fact, of the 12 home matches Strachan managed throughout all walks of the competition, he won 8; including victory in six consecutive home group stage matches, against the likes of AC Milan, Benfica (x2) and that famous win over Manchester United with a pearler of a free-kick from Naka.
Yet, for a man who achieved so much with Celtic, Strachan has told new boss Ange Postecoglou not to panic as much as he did on his debut against Artmedia Bratislava; where he succumbed 5-0 to the Slovakian outfit.
“All sorts of things were going on. Paul Telfer came in and hadn’t met anybody, Bobo Balde decided to speak to Middlesbrough about a move, refused to train and thought that was acceptable. Chris Sutton broke his jaw when Neil Lennon ran into him and Aiden McGeady missed an open goal from two yards. When all these things come at you at the one time, you just shake your head and say, ‘we took a few punches there lads eh?’.
“But you get to the end of the season, you’ve picked up two trophies, you’re into the Champions League the next season and you think, what were we worried about?”
Admittedly, FC Midtjylland are a side who are undoubtedly better than Artmedia were. But, with UEFA having got rid of the away goals rule earlier this summer, it means Celtic aren’t required to score following the 1-1 draw the Danes picked up in Glasgow – something which will ease the pressure.
And Strachan acknowledges this; Celtic were much the better side in the first leg, and so all they must do is play the same way they did.
“Common sense tells you Ange doesn’t need a miracle. His team dominated the first leg for god’s sake. What he needs is to put together a back four that is solid enough to get through the game with a clean sheet. Forget about all the rest. What worries me a bit is that the game on Saturday may have left a few mental scars. So Ange needs to find a way to protect them. He may have his own ideas about how he wants his full-backs to operate going forward and that’s fine.
“But all that’s for the future. What he needs right now is to somehow find a way of getting a back four ready for the next 90 minutes. Let’s not forget Midtjylland are a team in turmoil as well right now.
“So Celtic have got enough to score. The question is, how quickly have the boys at the back recovered? Have Ange and the coaches spoken to these kids and figured out what they want them to do for this one match? How do they give them more protection from the guys in midfield? Can the boys up front help out a little more?
These are questions which Ange will have dwelled on with his coaching staff all week – realistically, it’s all he could’ve done following the 6-2 drubbing by West Ham at the weekend.