On a freezing night in Glasgow (I’m sure there was frost in the North Stand Upper) Celtic turned in a combative performance against one of the favourites for the competition. Inspired by Scott Brown, who had one of his best games for Celtic, the team did their best to press and fight for every ball and did not seem overawed in the slightest.
Brendan asked for bravery before the game and he got that from all 11 players. Few teams have 40% possession (half time stat ) against Barca which is a measure of the team’s attitude and skill tonight.
The fans in the stadium seemed to recognise this too, with most of the voices around me being very supportive (apart from the one guy who seemed to think most of our players were ‘clowns’ and judged them as if we were playing Dundee rather than Barcelona!) and the crowd stayed behind the team until the end. Most people could see that, while there was a difference in class, we were always competing and in the game.
Our defence, and midfield, seemed much better at denying space to Barcelona and limited their chances until late in the game when more space opened up. Barca’ goal in the first half is the kind that they score week in, week out. Yes our defence lost a bit of concentration but it’s a hard ask to be on top of Messi, Suarez and Neymar for a whole game. Having said that, it was disappointing to see the gamesmanship and petulance of Neymar. I can’t recall ever seeing a player booed off so roundly at Parkhead, a fully merited accolade.
The last thing any team needs when playing Barca is to come up against a referee who seems to give every decision their way. Their penalty was the most obvious example where the crowd around me reacted in stunned disbelief. Normally when you think there’s a danger of a penalty you hold your breath and look at the referee. In this case, we all looked for a goal kick and then realised that a penalty had been awarded. There were many other ‘smaller’ decisions such as goal kicks, corners etc where he consistently got the outcome wrong. You could see the disbelief in the players reactions. Particularly Lustig’s when he was booked for being assaulted!
This time last season we were finishing bottom of our Europa League group. Of the fourteen players that were involved tonight, eleven were part of that humiliating campaign. The improvement is unbelievable and is testament to the work of Brendan and his team plus the positive attitude of the players. The main aim of this season was to qualify for the CL. We have done this and had at least one good performance against each of the teams in what is arguably the toughest CL group in this season’s competition. The other bonus in qualifying is that it has given Brendan the opportunity to see exactly where we need to strengthen further which I have every confidence he will. I, for one, can’t wait to see where this journey is taking us.