Where did it all go wrong for Celtic in the Champions League this season?

Celtic’s Champions League fate was sealed for another season on Tuesday night after a 2-0 loss to Lazio in Rome left the club without European football after Christmas for the second successive season.

Celtic’s European record makes for grim reading – No wins in the Champions League since 2017 when they defeated Anderlecht in Belgium; No home wins in the Champions League since 2013 when they defeated Ajax 2-1.

With Celtic’s fate sealed by the end of their penultimate game, fans are starting to seriously consider what went wrong this time round. Individual errors by the players, tactical naivety by the management team, and lack of quality signings by the recruitment department have all contributed to another fruitless European odyssey. Overall, it has been a collective failure, and we are left to ponder whether we can learn from our continued mistakes at this level.

Missed opportunities

One of the most disappointing aspects of Celtic’s early exit from the Champions League has been the missed opportunities to pick up points in the group. When the draw was initially made, fans were already picking out games where there was a potential to take something tangible. Some of the clearest opportunities to get some points on the board were the trip to De Kuip to face Feyenoord and the visit of Lazio to Celtic Park on matchday 2.

Celtic were competitive at De Kuip but couldn’t take advantage of what was an encouraging first-half performance as two red cards effectively killed off any chances of Brendan Rodgers’ men taking anything from Rotterdam.

Against Lazio, Celtic were arguably the better team on the night, but you don’t get points for a good performance. Celtic ultimately failed to create enough chances on the night and the Biancocelesti were far more clinical, scoring two of their three shots on target.

Even the encounter with Atlético Madrid at Parkhead could be deemed a missed opportunity. The Hoops were exceptional on the night in a game that many had identified as a free-hit, but only took a point from a spirited display against Diego Simeone’s side.

Mental gap

Celtic have struggled with raising their game and maintaining a strong mentality when facing off against Europe’s elite. There is almost a sense of inferiority when the Hoops line up in the Champions League as the team offers the opponent far too much respect.

This was evident in the aforementioned games against Feyenoord and Lazio. The inexperience resulted in two sendings-off in Rotterdam, leaving Celtic with no chance of a reprieve. Against the Italians, meanwhile, the intensity of the side dropped off following Luis Palma’s disallowed goal.

The clearest example of this mental gap was the hammering the team suffered in Madrid. There was already a mountain to climb following Daizen Maeda’s red card but the inferiority complex when playing in Europe reared its ugly head once again as Atleti hit the Hoops for six.

Fine margins

If the previous points mentioned aren’t giving you a sense of déjà vu, this point most certainly will.

The fine margins in Europe can decide whether you win or lose and Celtic always seem to struggle. Whether it’s missing a gilt-edged chance or a defensive lapse in judgement, there is always a moment that fans will rue following the match.

Examples of it this season would be Cameron Carter-Vickers’ mistake against Lazio, Maeda’s red card in Madrid and the pair of red cards handed out to Gustaf Lagerbielke and Odin Thiago Holm in Rotterdam.

Fans are always left wondering ‘what if?’ following Champions League games and it doesn’t seem like things are going to change any time soon.


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