It is a high-wire act that Brendan Rodgers is taking Celtic on across the Champions League by daring to play aristocrats such as Manchester City on their own terms. Erik Sviatchenko might even term it a high-bar act.
And the club’s Danish defender believes the rewards for going toe-to-toe with Pep Guardiola’s side in the spectacular 3-3 draw in Glasgow last week can be redrawing parameters in their group, a section considered too heavyweight for them in containing three clubs from top-four nations. German team Borussia Moenchengladbach will visit Celtic Park in just more than a fortnight to bring up the halfway point in a campaign that began with a 7-0 battering in Barcelona.
Celtic have conceded ten goals in only two games. But in being responsive to new ideas, Sviatchenko maintains Rodgers is opening their eyes to what is required to reach greater heights.
“It was annoying conceding three goals when it was goals out of nowhere and we could’ve prevented them. But looking back, one point against superstars like this is OK,” Sviatchenko said. “I think it shows, again, what this team is all about. It’s about pushing the bar. Looking at leaping the crossbar, as the gaffer says.
“To us it’s always about that step towards being a better player, being a better collective. Against City, we showed it. We were ruthless in the manner of how we adapted, even though that we knew it would be difficult.
“Sometimes passing the ball even in trouble can add to the workload but, again, as the manager says, it’s about that braveness. If you just put your head down and clear the ball away you won’t become better. Sometimes it will cost a goal or two and we will take that even though obviously, as a defender, you want to concede as few goals as possible.
“Still, we kept on going and showed that we can stretch and be dominant on home turf. We need to keep on working and be relentless in the domestic league and show our skills in the Champions League. You see them kicking the ball out of the pitch all the time almost. So I think it’s applause to our team that we created that stress factor on them. So that was fine. For sure this sets us up for Moenchengladbach.
“We will try to have the same mindset as we had against City so we’re looking forward to that.”
In a confrontation that could only be regarded as between huge unequals – a team that cost £420m ranged against hosts that were assembled for £20m – one man, not even a man really, produced a performance that flew in the face of his £500,000 summer transfer fee. The torrid time that two-goal Moussa Dembele gave the City defence demonstrated that Celtic have the potential to justify their presence in the group stages of the competition – which many of us had previously declared beyond their capabilities. Yet, we are only talking one ceaselessly thrilling 90 minutes as evidence of that as yet. Sviatchenko is cautious about making great claims about Celtic’s place, but not so when it comes to where the 20-year-old Frenchman can be headed.
“It’s always difficult to say where you belong. But as a club, as a perception we belong here. Now we showed that we can do something in the Champions League. They are a team that are better than us but it’s about the collective that needs to shine first and foremost.
“We had individuals that can cause a shock and cause problems for every team. Moussa Dembele is a young guy but still he’s showing what it’s all about. That feeling that he can go through everyone. He showed that against City and it’s nice to see.
“He could become a really, really good player. He is a good player but he’s not complete yet. He still has things to improve. But he works hard. He’s always improving his finishes after training and you see it pays off. He’s dominant with the head. He’s where he needs to be in the box and as a striker worthy so I think he can become one of the good players.
“As a defender, his physicality and also his speed makes him a nightmare. You can see he can outrun players as well. And he links better and better with the team. That’s also important for a striker. As a No.9 you need to link up with the one guy behind No.10 and the wingers. It’s just about time regarding him being even better.”
Sviatchenko is a player getting better for the club he joined in January for £1.5m from FC Midtjylland. He isn’t the most powerful or pacey, but he stood tall at the elite level of the European game last week because of his quick thinking. His game intelligence was to the fore in seven interceptions against City – the highest number from any defender across the entire card of 16 Champions League encounters in midweek.
“These were the nights I thought about when I heard about Celtic,” he said. “But the most important thing was the plan with me that Celtic had and now it’s all relishing some really good games with the Champions League. I want to improve as a footballer and the only way you can improve is to be matched at the highest level. I thought I did OK against City.”
Such a neutral term as “OK” really doesn’t belong when reviewing the epic, invigorating events at Celtic Park on Wednesday.