Celtic have made it through to the Champions League group stages despite a defeat in Israel. Craig Fowler looks back on a gruelling, though ultimately rewarding, night for Brendan Rodgers’ side
Hapoel Beer-Sheva were much better than their Parkhead showing
A comeback from the Israelis seemed inconceivable after the first leg. They may have scored twice in Glasgow, but since both strikes came within 90 seconds of each other, the accomplishment was almost written off as some sort of fluke, especially as they’d failed to trouble Celtic for large spells of the contest and looked porous in defence.
While we all loudly proclaimed the tie as good as done, the one caveat remained Beer-Sheva’s true quality. Was the performance last Wednesday their mean, or an aberration?
Turns out it was the latter. While they still lacked a top class No.9 to really make their superior possession and pressure count, they passed the ball around in a manner that was night and day to their play in Glasgow. We finally saw the highly organised side they were initially hailed as, and not just in defence. They moved freely between a 4-3-3 formation and narrow 4-4-2 diamond on the positioning of Maor Melikson, who was given license to roam. His forced substitution would eventually hinder the hosts, who failed to move play as fluently in the final stages of the match.
Celtic arrived in Israel with the intent of killing the game off quickly. They wanted to press the hosts into an early submission and stroll through the rest of the night. It’s why Saidy Janko started at right back. It’s why Callum McGregor was preferred to Tom Rogic. Brendan Rodgers wanted runners to get up and at them. Instead, Beer-Sheva calmly passed it around the energetic visitors and Celtic could do nothing but retreat deeper and deeper.
Brendan Rodgers made the right tactical change - after making the wrong one
The initial line-up didn’t work. Dynamism, especially off the ball, was the main strength McGregor had over Rogic, but his input was reduced to chasing shadows by the home side’s composure. Celtic needed someone of Rogic’s quality on the ball, so he was brought on at half-time. The change had the unexpected effect of heralding the most disorganised 15 minutes of Rodgers’ tenure thus far, and it played a part in the second goal.
Even after the fact, it’s hard to decipher exactly what the Celtic system was. Sinclair remained on the left, but with no-one (James Forrest had been replaced by Rogic) on the opposite flank. Nir Bitton edged out to that side a little, but only as part of a three man unit which sat behind Rogic, who was playing off Leigh Griffiths, with McGregor drifting in and out of no man’s land between Sinclair and Scott Brown. Beer-Sheva took advantage of the confusion, quickly switching the play from left to right where Ben Bitton was able to put a ball into the box. The right back played a role in the opener also, winning the corner from which Ben Sahar scored, but even he would have thought the chance had gone when Gordon claimed his cross, only for all hell to break loose.
This was not the right match for Saidy Janko
Some will question Gordon’s part in the goal, arguing that once a goalkeeper has the ball in his grasp there’s no way he should let it drop unless he’s knocked senseless. Such criticism may be fair had Janko jarred into his team-mate’s body, but replays show he makes contact with the ball before anything else, perfectly popping it up and out of Gordon’s hands. Besides, if there’s blame to be attributed, regardless of how much Gordon may get, Janko deserves the lion’s share.
It was a horrendous evening for the former Manchester United full back. While he was unlucky to give away a first half penalty, as replays showed the foul to have taken place outside of the box, his lack of positional sense throughout the match put Celtic into trouble time and again. It’s no coincidence he looked a lot more comfortable after Celtic moved to a back three, pushing up further up the park and away from the danger area.
Sviatchenko’s return came at just the right time
There are a lot of question marks around the Celtic defence right now, and finally Rodgers will get his answer to the first of these: can the problems be solved by a Kolo Toure-Erik Sviatchenko partnership at the centre back position? The Danish defender returned after a month out through injury and his introduction certainly helped Celtic hold on to their advantage in Israel. It allowed Rodgers to shift his team to a 3-5-1-1 and Beer-Sheva never created another clear cut chance as Celtic finally began to restrict the freedom of their movement.
Sviatchenko, for his part, put in a couple of crucial tackles around the final third and provided extra steel to a shaky defence. Toure, who was excellent again, looks to be a shrewd signing. If he and Sviatchenko can strike up an understanding then Celtic may finally start registering clean sheets with the regularity we expect from them.
Craig Gordon is in no mood to discuss the Celtic Park goalkeeping battle
If looks could kill then BT Sport’s Darrell Currie would not have made it out of the Turner Stadium alive. The fire in Gordon’s eyes was almost visible after the presenter asked him about the battle of the No.1 jersey with Dorus de Vries, especially as the question insinuated Gordon had made an error in his clash with Janko.
Unfortunately for Gordon, he’d better get used to these questions. De Vries’ pedigree has led observations to assume the Scottish international is a lame duck at the position and this feeling will only intensity with any mistake, minor or otherwise. Even if the majority believe he did nothing wrong in the Janko incident, the very fact he was a part of the farcical goal will impact his current standing, which would be a shame as he had a fine match otherwise.