Can Celtic live up to Brendan’s early European aspirations?

Four days after Brendan Rodgers was announced as Ange Postecoglou’s successor, I attended a press conference up at Celtic Park on behalf of ACSOM. There were so many questions I could have asked the returning manager, but I decided to focus on European progression and what he would define as progress in Europe.

Would winning our first knockout tie since 2004 be the target?  Here’s what the manager had to say.

It’s certainly a start.  I think the draw of getting into the Champions League and what it does for the club financially is great but I’m here to win and I want to win.  It’s why I’ve come back, is to win and see what we can do in Europe.  Europe’s a huge part of the history of this club.

I also understand the challenges having worked in the Premier League and the budgets of those clubs which far supersede what we can pay.  But we want to be competitive and that’s what’s important for us.

Some will define success differently, but certainly, a win in the knockout stages would be a good start.

Since making these assertions, Celtic have suffered two defeats in their first two group games against Feyenoord and Lazio. The results only tell half the story, though, and Brendan Rodgers’ side will have learned massively from the nature of both defeats.

Fans were left frustrated earlier this month, as Celtic succumbed to a sickening last-minute goal which saw Italian giants Lazio walk away from Celtic Park with all 3 points. The game was even more frustrating as Celtic looked like arguably the better team over the course of the 90 minutes, but for a disallowed Luis Palma goal followed by an uncharacteristic error by Cameron Carter-Vickers at the death.

A loss in a home game, which would have provided Celtic with their best opportunity to pick up points in the group, left fans assessing Celtic’s realistic aims from the European campaign at this point.

So where did things go wrong, and how can Celtic begin to rectify the situation tomorrow night?

Same old mistakes

It seems like a recurring Euro theme with Celtic, that the club often fails by the finest of margins.

In European games, particularly in the Champions League, chances will be at a premium for Celtic. We simply cannot continue to pass up opportunities when they are presented to us. We must be more clinical at this level.

Standout opportunities passed up against Lazio included Alistair Johnston blasting over a close-range shot and Matt O’Riley getting his connection all wrong as his stray effort went wayward.

At the other end of the field, in both games, defensive errors have cost the team dearly. Matches at this level are going to be tough, but playing with 9 men like the Hoops did in Rotterdam gives the team an unsurmountable mountain to climb.

Against the Italians, it was a costly individual mistake which hurt Celtic as Cameron Carter-Vickers was dispossessed in a dangerous area which resulted in the move that led to Pedro Rodriguez heading in Lazio’s winner.

Realistic Atlético aims

If Celtic are to take anything from the home encounter against Atleti then they will have to be more clinical in front of goal as every opportunity has to count at this level. A realistic aim from the upcoming double-header against the Spanish giants would perhaps be picking up a point from the home game.

Fans will be fearful when heading to the Wanda Metropolitano to take on a free-scoring Atlético Madrid side who can boast key players such as Antoine Griezmann and Memphis Depay in their ranks. If Celtic continue to let lapses of judgement creep into their game defensively then things could get ugly in Madrid.

Where will Celtic finish?

Things are looking bleak at this stage, but the key games where Celtic will be looking to pick up points will be in the visit of Feyenoord, where there is a realistic opportunity to push for all 3 points, and in the visit to the Stadio Olimpico to take on Lazio.

Celtic will be encouraged by both performances against the aforementioned sides, but if qualification from the group is the aim, then we will need to win in Rome.

It would be a hard game to win, but Celtic have proven in recent years that they can get the job done over there. They may have to call upon some individual brilliance, however, much like Fraser Forster produced in that famous win back in 2019.

Even getting European football after Christmas may be a tough task, but if Celtic can cut out the typical mistakes they usually make in Europe then it could be possible.


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