Manager says he wants to lead Celtic into Europe next season as he faces the now familiar inquest into latest failure
No Scottish club cherishes their European history more than Celtic. How could it be any different, given their status as the first from Britain to lift the continent’s major prize?
It is why the post-mortem to any European defeat, especially those as mortifying as the back-to-back losses to Molde, is unforgivingly thorough from pundits and punters alike.
Whether he likes it or not, Ronny Deila, pictured right, is discovering that no amount of domestic success as Celtic manager will prevent his credibility in the job being assessed primarily on his European record.
While not even the most fervent Celtic fan would expect Deila to rekindle the halcyon days of 1967, his failure to match up to far more recent standards is a very different matter.
It is only three seasons ago, after all, that Celtic reached the last 16 of the Champions League after a group phase which included the famous 2-1 win over Barcelona at Parkhead.
That may have been a case of punching above their weight but Celtic are now in danger of becoming permanent European makeweights.
Since replacing Neil Lennon 18 months ago, Deila has presided over two failed Champions League qualifying campaigns, the first of which even saw him given a second bite at the cherry when Legia Warsaw fielded an ineligible player in their 6-1 aggregate win over his team.
Halfway through his second Europa League group stage campaign, Deila has now managed just two victories from nine matches.
In conjunction with Celtic’s horrific defensive record in Europe since he took charge, with 37 goals conceded in 24 games, it adds up to a damning charge sheet for the 40-year-old Norwegian coach on the stage which matters most of all to his club’s supporters, shareholders and board members.
As ever, Deila spoke willingly and expansively as he reflected on his latest European flop yesterday.
Thursday’s 2-1 home loss to Molde, just two weeks after the even more wretched 3-1 defeat to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side in Norway, left the Scottish champions at the foot of their Europa League group and now in need of maximum points from their two remaining fixtures, at home to Ajax and away to Fenerbahce, if they are to salvage a place in the last 32.
Deila did not attempt to make any case for his defence, who have now leaked 13 goals in Celtic’s last six European matches. Tyler Blackett, who suffered the ignominy of being substituted after coming on for the injured Jozo Simunovic early in the game, added his name to Dedryck Boyata and Efe Ambrose as a central defensive culprit in Deila’s back four.
The manager pointed to the loss of last season’s pairing of Virgil van Dijk and Jason Denayer as a factor in the recent failings and he believes a fully-fit Simunovic can go on to establish a sound partnership with Boyata.
Deila also stressed he has no plans to alter his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation which, in the manner it is played by Celtic, often appears to leave the central defenders exposed.
“What can I do?” he said. “Is it because there is no protection that they concede those goals against Molde? I don’t think so.
“There were ten men in the 18-yard box, so it’s not about that. I don’t see us getting outplayed, I don’t see other teams cutting through us to make clear chances. I don’t see that.
“We just need more physique there. After we lost Virgil, who is a big guy, we need more determination in the box at set plays. We have to have much more determination to win balls. It was not like they were winning every challenge, I can’t see that. If they were all over us, I would hold my hands up but you have to see the game.
“We had nine quite big chances and that’s a lot in Europe. At home against Fenerbahce, it was the same – we created good, good chances. Against Ajax away, we didn’t create so much but we were more stable defensively.
“We conceded goals too easily against Molde. They had two chances and a shot from wide which hit the bar. The two chances were one-on-one in the box that we have to deal with. It was the same against Fenerbahce. It’s too easy and when you do things like that in Europe you get punished and you put yourself on the back foot.
“So the positive is that we score goals and we create chances, we have possession. Other teams are feeling that we can do something now and they are sitting back and they are trying to defend. We create. But when you concede goals like we do now, you can play as much as you want and you will not win games.”
Deila feels he merits the chance to emulate Lennon and qualify for the Champions League at the third time of asking in the job. The evidence may suggest otherwise but he is convinced progress has been made since that thumping loss to Legia was overturned at the start of last season.
“We have made a lot of improvements after Legia,” he said. “Offensively, we have improved, but defensively we haven’t got to that level.
“We have to work every day with the players in training, we have to show them the pictures and get them conscious of everything they do.
“We have to work with them over time, coach around them to make them feel they can grow. That’s what we have done – a lot of players here have improved, so there is nothing you can say about that. People have stepped up so we are doing something right there.
“We cannot fight against the big teams in Europe. But we can beat Molde, Malmo and Legia Warsaw. That’s my target next year when we come into the Champions League, hopefully.”