1. Sinclair is the difference maker.
After a blistering start to life at Celtic Park, Sinclair has come in for some unexpected criticism. Worries that he has settled into predictable patterns of play, that he goes missing in games too often. Last night, however, he reminded everyone why he is the reigning Player of the Year. His movement, intelligence, and finishing were all a cut above what anyone else on the park could offer. The dynamic wide man notched an incredible 25 goals last season, and with 5 already he is well poised to surpass that total.
2. Griffiths is truly exceptional.
With talk of £40million bids for Moussa Dembele on the horizon, it is easy to forget that Celtic have another, wonderfully talented striker, on the books. Griffiths may lack Dembele’s ferocious physique, raw power, and aerial prowess, but he makes up for such deficiencies in other areas. His movement is first class, slipping into the correct areas of the pitch with an almost subconscious ease. And when he enters the penalty area few players can match his ruthlessness. All of this pales into insignificance when we look at his finest asset – his left foot. Without a hint of hyperbole, Griffiths possesses one of the best left pegs in Britain. Capable of deft flicks, thunderous strikes, threaded passes and cheeky chips. His set pieces are also a wonder to behold, increasing Celtic’s potency whenever he steps over a corner. And finally, as England found to their detriment, Griffiths is no mug when it comes to free kicks.
His performance was acknowledged by Steven Gerrard after the game, saying, “Griffiths was the catalyst for me.”
Such a menagerie of talents is worthy of any number of Tunnock’s Teacakes.
3. James Forrest still has a role to play.
No player in the current squad splits opinion quite like James Forrest. The Rosenborg game in Norway summed him up best. His goal, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it strike into the roof of the net, was preceded by two hilariously inept attempts at controlling the ball. Then just ten minutes later after winning the ball high up the park, Forrest found himself with just the keeper to beat, sadly he fluffed his lines.
Last night was more of the same from the Forrest. For large swathes of the game the ‘headless chicken’ routine was on full display, but here and there glimmers of quality shone through. His goal was underrated. The run from the centre of the field to overlap Griffiths was as intelligent as it was well timed. His first touch was impeccable, and his finish assured.
Everyone is waiting with bated breath for the arrival of Paddy Roberts, a deal that would surely confine Forrest to the substitutes bench. However, if Forrest can produce his occasional moments of magic, there will always be a place for him in the squad.
4. Bitton is a central defender.
Before the game, almost every Celtic fan would have been harbouring doubts about whether or not Nir Bitton could perform in Europe in the heart of defence. Such worries were compounded with his erratic challenge last Friday against Partick Thistle, where the Israeli was lucky not to see a late penalty awarded against him. Against Astana however, Bitton looked every inch the modern defender. He was strong in the challenge and robust in the air, yet when it came time for Celtic to make themselves an attacking force, Bitton made himself crucial; receiving the ball from Craig Gordon and circulating possession well.
Bitton’s presence also allows Celtic to lull the opposition forward before launching accurate balls over the top for the ever-ready Leigh Griffiths. Celtic are yet to concede in Europe and that, in no small part, is thanks to the emergence of Bitton as a defensive force.
His performance was acknowledged by manager Brendan Rodgers who virtually dragged him to the edge of the crowd to bask in some well-earned admiration.
5. Celtic can do something in Europe.
The last time Celtic performed above their station was in the 2012-13 season under Neil Lennon. 10 points were enough to earn progression in a group containing Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow. The high octane, robust style employed, yielded some legendary results, yet the need for a kiss from Lady Luck was never far from the forefront.
The current Celtic incarnation are more capable of setting the agenda. Where Lennon’s side was almost exclusively reactionary, Rodgers’ are so well drilled, so calm in possession, that they are now well capable of forcing teams to adapt to their game. Of course, a side as out muscled financially as Celtic are, will always need a whiff of luck, the feeling that destiny is in their own hands has never been more palpable.
What constitutes a good European showing for Celtic? Well, progression into the last 16 is always the dream, and depending on who fills out Celtic’s group that goal is certainly attainable. More realistic, is the ambition to finish 3rd and make a graceful descent into the Europa League, where Celtic really could do something exciting.
All of this, however, is predicated on Celtic ensuring that a professional performance is delivered next week in Kazakhstan.
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