Kevin Graham with A Celtic State of Mind – Champions League Preview

It’s fair to say this trip to Estonia is a dead rubber. It won’t be a tension-filled night and the coaching staff will have one-and-a-half eyes on playing St Johnstone at the weekend. The draw has been kind to us in this round. FC Sarajevo would comfortably stay in the Scottish Premiership while Nomme Kalju wouldn’t.  
The players need time to adapt to ‘Lennyball’. All squads need time to adjust to a new manager. Yes, he was there last season but he has made changes now, and a few more minutes won’t do the players any harm. Especially for the front players.  
Our new style is less rigid than the last three seasons and has more emphasis on playing the ball quicker and taking riskier passes in the final third. The worry for most was that we would be seeing a version of Alex McDonald’s Airdrie running out at Celtic Park are proving unfounded.  
We previously placed much more importance on keeping the ball. Strangling the game with the tiki-taka philosophy that if the opposition doesn’t have the ball they can’t score. This worked well.
Nine trophies out of nine are a testament to this, but it is fair and unarguable that over the last 18 months teams have worked out that a high aggressive press and a well organized low block works against us.  

The players clicked on Tuesday, but what is clear is that there will be times that we turn the ball over, and our defensive shape without the ball has to be correct. After three seasons of a methodical style it may take us a while to get used to a more loose approach and this could see frustrations early on.
There were some against Sarajevo and early against Nomme Kulje. The stats point to Ryan Christie and Calum McGregor turning the ball over more than last season. The stats also point to Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo passing a few times to a team-mate.
The Belgian needs game time and hopefully will travel and play. Getting used to new team mates, new systems and a new country is not as simple as playing Football Manager in your bedroom.
With both Christopher Jullien and Jozo Simunovic suspended for the game at the weekend both will get game time in Estonia, as Nir Bitton and Kris Ajer are wrapped up in cotton wool. Hatem Abd Elhamed may also see game time if his core fitness is good enough and you would expect Anthony Ralston to start at right-back. The midfield is a difficult pick but I would look for Lewis Morgan, Olivier Ntcham and Mikey Johnston racking up pitch minutes, and Griffiths edging towards a full 90 minutes.
We then have the added interest of the fit-again Bayo and Shved travelling and looking to impress and get a foothold in the matchday squad. There is enough interest for this game not to be dismissed by the support.
Whatever the team, the watching scouts won’t get an impression of how we will line up the following week as this is now nothing more than a training exercise but one that can tick several boxes that the players and coaching staff need ticking.    

Kevin Graham   

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