BASED on the evidence of the second qualifying round tie against KR Reykjavik, it is difficult to make any confident assessment of Celtic’s prospects of Champions League progress under new manager Ronny Deila.
Such was the standard of opposition presented by the Icelandic champions, the comprehensive and ultimately facile nature of Celtic’s 5-0 aggregate victory amounted to no more and no less than a professional and efficient job by Deila’s players.
More difficult assignments lie ahead in the next few weeks if they are to secure a third consecutive appearance in the group stage. Deila took a firsthand view of last night’s action in Dublin as St Patrick’s Athletic and Legia Warsaw battled for the right to face them in the third qualifying round.
If Celtic negotiate that hurdle, the final play-off round could then provide a real acid test of his team’s early-season credentials against higher-rated sides such as Czech champions Sparta Prague or Croatian title holders Dinamo Zagreb.
For the moment, what we have definitely learned about Deila is that he is not an easy man to please. Having stated before Tuesday night’s match at Murrayfield that a poor performance by his team would anger him even if they won the tie, he expressed further evidence of his high demands immediately after the 4-0 romp.
The Norwegian coach was a little irked by the drop in tempo by his players in the second half, when they added just one more goal to their 3-0 interval lead, and bemoaned their failure to “destroy” their opponents in such circumstances.
Attitude is clearly as important as aptitude in Deila’s footballing philosophy. He is as keen to have an influence on his players’ psychological development as well as the quality of their displays on the pitch.
“There will be good times and bad times during a season but it’s the dialogue between the coach and the player which is important,” said Deila. “They have to be aware of what they’re doing themselves, and have responsibility for their own career and development. It takes time.
“A lot of the players are listening and are taking steps but it’s only been four weeks and I can’t do miracles. However, we are going in the right way.”
One player showing immediate signs of improvement under Deila is Finnish international striker Teemu Pukki. The 24-year-old struggled to find both confidence and consistency following his £2.4 million arrival at the club from Schalke 04 last season, managing just seven goals in 32 appearances.
Pukki too often looked a passive figure in the Celtic side, unable to impose himself on opposing defences. But while he was still guilty of some poor missed chances against Reykjavik, he was a more lively and dynamic presence on Tuesday night and displayed good predatory instincts to net his first two European goals for the club.
“Teemu was good,” added Deila. “He had a lot of chances, including one before he scored and he just has to continue. He needs minutes and he has scored in almost every game he has played now, including the pre-season games, which is good. I’ve talked with him like I have talked with all the players but everything is a process.”
Deila also showed a hard-edged streak on Tuesday night, ignoring the admittedly good-natured jeers of the Celtic fans when he substituted Pukki immediately after his second goal and denied him the opportunity of a hat-trick.
Of more importance to Deila was the opportunity to use the closing stages of the game to try Kris Commons in the central striker’s role, an interesting experiment which he may look to develop. What Deila will already appreciate is that Commons is Celtic’s most influential player, bringing a degree of invention and movement in the attacking third of the pitch which is key to everything they do well.
At the back, Deila has done nothing to tinker with the established back four of Mikael Lustig, Efe Ambrose, Virgil van Dijk and Emilio Izaguirre in front of goalkeeper Fraser Forster. But time will tell if both Forster and van Dijk remain at his disposal when the transfer window closes on 31 August.
For now, both are important to his ambitions of managing Celtic among Europe’s elite clubs in the months which follow. Runar Kristinsson, the manager of KR Reykjavik, took his exit gracefully on Tuesday but believes Celtic’s qualification hopes are in the balance.
“They will definitely get beyond the third qualifying round,” said Kristinsson. “I hope for Ronny and the club that they also make the group stage. But it depends on who they draw in the play-off round.
“I think they could be vulnerable at the back against a better team than us. But they played nice football against us and scored some good goals. I wish Ronny and Celtic well.”