Have Celtic ever entered a home game with such trepidation? After the mauling in the Nou Camp the Celtic support, in general, was left hugely deflated. After all this was not a Celtic side that had been scraping results, clambering up the table by the skin of their teeth. No, this was a side that had demolished everything on a domestic front, the highlight coming just three days prior when the Hoops brushed aside the media’s tip for title challengers in a blistering 5-1 display. The fact this humbling came when Celtic were riding the crest of a wave only added to the angst felt in the run up to last night’s game.
Prior to last night’s game I heard fans, my voice loud among them, admit that they would accept a defeat so long as it was not by too big a margin, so long as the players give a good account of themselves. Well, they more than delivered.
Many had assumed that Rodgers would continue his trend, selecting a 5-2-2-1, sitting deep and attempting to limit the City advances. However, the gaffer, demonstrating why he has garnered such an admiration during his short stint, was brave. Refusing to alter the starting line-up or the style of play, the Hoops went toe-to-toe with one of the most talented and expensive sides on the planet.
In Pep Guardiola’s book he continuously emphasises the need for control. In order to be successful you need to control the ball, rotate it at high speed and the result will follow. Yet last night in the feverous cauldron of Parkhead, for the first time as the City boss, that was something that never really occurred. The frantic, end-to-end, trading of blows was a delight. Forrest played with bravery and Sinclair moved and passed with an intelligence that has been rare in Hooped top in recent years. Dembele occupied the entire defensive line-up, running, harassing, forcing mistakes in a normally immaculate unit, until he was rewarded with a couple of goals – the last of which was truly stunning. His manager was quick to sing his praises saying “He really bullied the Man City back four”.
The midfield, an area of concern prior to the game, was a source of delight. Brown and Bitton in particular impressed. Last season the pair looked cumbersome. They lumbered around the park as though somebody had sewn a number of weights into their strips. Now though, they are hardly recognisable. Their fluid carrying of the ball and positive distribution not only eases the pressure on the defence but it is also the catalyst for a number of the successful attacks. Despite all this it is Rogic who I admired the most. Although I am biased. I am a sucker for a playmaker, a languid stroller capable of turning games with their talent. Last night Rogic enhanced a reputation that has already gleamed in Scotland.
The defence was as stoic as you could have hoped for. The first goal was hugely unfortunate and the two goals that followed were classic examples of hard it is to deal with superior attacking talent. To complain about it now would be rather churlish. Young Kieran Tierney however can walk with an added swagger despite his sluggishness in the first City goal. To set up two goals, from left-back, in a game when he was supposed to be under the cosh was breath-taking.
The manager must be forced to stand up and take a bow. His initial selection was positive, but what was most impressive was his reluctance to sit back and meekly accept City’s domination. When the Citizen’s pressure was at its oppressive peak you would assume that defensive reinforcements would be deployed. Yet his decision to throw Roberts and Griffiths into the fray is a great indicator into the mindset of the man. It was a play that is straight out of the Johan Cruyff handbook. The gaffer was clearly impressed with his side saying, “Tonight is hopefully a good marker of how much the players have improved in a short space of time,”.
The result leaves Celtic in a pretty good position if our aim is a graceful decent into the Europa League. It also allows the Bhoys to head into the crucial double header with Borussia Monchengladbach with a renewed sense of purpose. The result serves a dual purpose in that is displays Scottish football in a better light. Far too often the game North of Hadrian’s Wall is derided for the simple reason that a TV conglomerate has not chosen to bequeath it with a sultan’s wealth. Last night showed that the disparity in finances can be cancelled out with a passionate support, a clever game plan and players willing to run themselves into the ground.
In the aftermath of last night’s game, it is sad to see that there are already rumblings of Celtic losing the best players. Dembele, Rogic and Tierney in particular will have decisions to make. At this point in time, when there is so much dispensable cash spent in the game, it does not seem fanciful to think that Scottish football’s first £20milllion pound sale may be on the horizon.
In a damp Wednesday night in Glasgow, David clashed with Goliath. While the giant was not knocked out, he was staggered with a number of serious blows, forced to retreat back to the Etihad with a couple of black eyes and a new found respect.
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