Celtic earned themselves a positive result from the first leg of their Champions League encounter with Astana.
Here’s everything we learned from a tough 90 minutes for the Scottish Champions.
Patrick Roberts can be an X-factor for Celtic in Europe
The on loan Manchester City attacker was the only one of Celtic’s attacking players that played with any sort of verve. He routinely wriggled past opponents and would eventually notch an assist after cutting back for Leigh Griffiths to equalise. What’s particularly encouraging is that he could still have played better, despite being his side’s premier performer over the 90 minutes. Often in attacking areas, having skipped past his man, he would fail to find a fellow Hooped shirt with his cross. That’s unlike Roberts, who’s proven himself thus far in his time at Celtic Park to have a consistent final ball.
Eoghan O’Connell can handle the pressure
There is little doubt O’Connell was partly at fault for the first goal. Craig Gordon made a hash of it by coming for a cross he was never likely to get, but Yuri Logvinenko may have scored anyway after drifting off the back of O’Connell inside the six yard area. The 20-year-old badly misjudged the flight of the ball and his team were 1-0 down. You’d expect most young centre backs to retreat into their shell at this point, but O’Connell got better as the game went on. He showed great poise on the ball and made a number of important tackles off it. He’s shown himself to be a strong prospect for the future, even if he is likely to be down the pecking order once everyone is fit.
Partick Twumasi is the dangerman for Astana
Without their captain and leading goalscorer Tanat Nusserbayev, it was difficult to know what to expect from Astana, a team that don’t score a lot of goals as it is. To combat his absence, they lined up against Celtic in what was either a 3-5-2 or a 3-6-1, depending on whether you viewed Patrick Twumasi as a midfielder or striker. The Ghanian was given a free role to roam between the left wing and right wing, while also dropping deep to link with midfield. When the hosts didn’t have possession he would stand level with central striker Junior Kabananga, looking to stretch Celtic on the counter attack. Not only did he deliver the goal with an excellent corner into the penalty area, it was his run and cross which forced the set-piece in the first place.
Brendan Rodgers stopped the bleeding
At 1-0, ten minutes into the second half, there was only going to be one team that scored the next goal, and it wasn’t Celtic. In a 4-4-2, Celtic were too exposed between the defence and midfield and they needed to change it up. Typically, a defensive midfielder coming on for a striker is not the type of change supporters want to see when their team is a goal down, but it was a necessarily pragmatic decision from Rodgers. While on paper it didn’t do much for Celtic’s chances of getting back into the match, it gave them the best chance of averting disaster and taking the tie back to Glasgow still in the balance. In actual fact, nullifying Astana’s threat with greater ease allowed Celtic to push up the park a little more, which contributed to their goal. Rodgers used his subs well and showed real tactical poise. Celtic fans should be encouraged.
Celtic still require more quality at a Champions League level
It was a night to forget for both Stuart Armstrong and Callum McGregor, while Scott Brown still looks well short of his Champions League best from three seasons ago. The only time Celtic managed to look threatening prior to the formation change was when they got the ball forward to Griffiths and Dembele quickly, thereby bypassing the midfield, or gave it to Roberts. Brendan Rodgers inherited a squad chalked with centre midfielders and fans often debate which ones are deserved of a start - with Scott Allan, Nir Bitton, Ryan Christie, Stefan Johansen and Tom Rogic also in contention - but in the end he’ll likely look outwith the confines of Lennoxtown to get Celtic where he wants them to be in Europe.