Firstly before I go on to talk about the match itself I would just like to comment on the fantastic atmosphere created at Celtic Park last night by the fans. It had that ‘big European night’ feel again and with it being my first European game since before the pandemic hit us, it truly was great to be back amongst fellow Bhoys and Ghirls again on such an occasion.
I was in the ground early enough (just about, after bumping into a few Bhoys from back home) to witness the infamous ‘Disco Lights’ in action. For all that has been said about them since they were installed I have to be honest and admit that I do think they add to the match day experience especially on a night like this. Against Raith Rovers in the league cup? Maybe a bit excessive. As the tension and atmosphere built up before kick off, the goosebumps definitely returned.
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The first 25 mins or so was frantic with the crowd really getting behind the team, and the team looked to be thriving playing in front of such an energetic crowd. Even when the goal went in the crowd still got behind the team, everyone sensing it wouldn’t be long before we got one of our own due to the way we were playing.
The second goal before half time was definitely a body blow and the sense of disappointment was palpable. After half time the players returned with new vigour replicating the intensity they showed in the first quarter of the match and again the crowd had a sense of expectancy around it. The penalty and the resultant third goal of the night from Bayer Leverkusen definitely ended the game as a contest before the fourth, scored in front of a half empty stadium at the very end of the game was just another nail in the coffin.
The one thing I sensed was that although on paper we took a hammering at home, the game honestly didn’t transpire that way. At times we looked the better side which is a strange thing to say when we have lost by such a wide margin but the big difference between the sides was that Bayer Leverkusen, probably due to having a more settled team, were just so much more clinical than us.
The game ebbed and flowed with chances for both teams but where as they seemed to bury most of their chances we fluffed our lines. This wasn’t just on the shooting front, yes Kyogo failed to score from a couple of good chances and Abada also failed to convert a good opportunity, but it was the final ball which also let us down at times. This is something I’ve been noticing during the last few matches where the build up play is smooth and fast but the key final ball just missing its target. Rogic and Abada the two probably most guilty of this.
Something that also frustrates me is our lack of threat from set pieces, whether this is from corners or crossed in free kicks, or from going for goal directly from a free kick. Maybe we have been spoilt over the years with the likes of Nakamura, Mulgrew and even Leigh Griffiths, but it just seems we are so wasteful from these.
I don’t put all the blame on the taker either as I think the guys attacking the ball in the box are just as impotent. This has been something that’s been going on as far back as Brendan Rodgers time. Terrible at defending set pieces and not much better at taking them. Something we really should be working on in the future. With the quick attacking style we are playing under Ange it therefore tends to lead to more corners and free kicks so we really do need to be trying to take advantage of these.
The one positive, and possibly unexpected, thing I noticed during this match and at full time was that Ange definitely still has the backing of the majority of Celtic fans. I may be bias but I always like to think that on the most part Celtic fans are knowledgeable about their football and don’t get led by what the mainstream media are trying to spin in the hope of fracturing the relationship between fans and the club/manager/players.
I also think social media can give a false sense of the feelings amongst our fan base. People love to go online and spew their negativity in the hope of getting attention and likes from other fans but a lot of the time it’s not the feeling among the core base of Celtic fans. Most fans I got talking to last night are disappointed about the way things are going at the minute, but they can also recognise what Ange is trying to achieve with this team, and they support it.
Anyone who has looked into Ange’s managerial career will see that when he takes over a club he likes to completely change the footballing philosophy of the team. He strives for his teams not just to be good and achieve minor success, he wants them to be great and extremely successful. He also wants them to do it in a way that’s pleasing on the eye, that’s exciting for the fans watching in the stadium, in the pubs and in their homes. Football that gets them on their feet.
In certain moments last night i could see exactly the type of football Ange wants from this team. Unfortunately this team is only in the formative stages of implementing this plan. We need to give them time to perfect it. It’s easy to spot the ‘Ange’ signings in this team – Kyogo, Jota, Abada. All full of movement, trying to play the ball quickly, looking to run at players. With more time other players will hopefully be able to adjust to this. Hopefully with more time Ange will be able to recruit players he knows can perform like this, weed out the ones currently in the squad who aren’t up to task. We want Ange to pick these players, no one else.
This is achievable. I just hope as a fan base and as a club we are capable of giving the man time. We all know success is vital at our club and it’s something we all crave but if we are patient I think we could become a really good team under our manager. A team that can step up on these European nights and outplay our counterparts from the big leagues. Now that really would be something to get excited about.