EUROPEAN games are entitled to bring a mix of fear and dread to Ronny Deila. Celtic are ten games without a win in the Europa League. The absence of a victory in the group phase of the competition this season will ensure Celtic finish bottom of their section. They have conceded 15 goals in their past seven continental outings. It hardly seems likely that a respite from these horrendous statistics will be forthcoming with Thursday’s exacting assignment in Istanbul’s intimidating Sükrü Saracoglu Stadium against a Fenerbahce side going full pelt for the win that will secure their place in the tournament’s last 32.
European football could yet fatally undermine Deila’s attempts to remake Celtic. His team’s failings makes this week’s confrontation the last faced by the Scottish champions before they are plunged into a Champions League qualifying campaign in July. Two summers of failure in this environment mean the club will very much find itself at a crossroads in that tilt for the pounds and prestige that they need merely to maintain current modest levels.
No wonder, then, that Deila seems reluctant to consider fielding a team full of fringe performers or experimenting to any great degree with his line-up in the Turkish capital. Though he forwards a noble reason for why he would not do so.
“We are going to use this game to get more European experience,” the Celtic manager said. “With good performances you get more confidence and that is what we hope to get from this match. Hopefully a good result too. We will see what we do with the players but we won’t change the whole team. We would never do that. We have a duty to other teams to fight for the points.”
Changing the mindset to change the outcomes isn’t something that Deila’s assistant John Collins championed in the aftermath of the recent home defeat by Ajax. However, the Norwegian believes the perception of him as intransigent in terms of his 4-2-3-1 formation isn’t borne out by way he has configured his players on the continent. Deila does believe there may be something in keeper Craig Gordon’s contention that Celtic have been “too nice” in failing to be streetwise.
“It’s not about systems, it’s about principles. We have changed the system in Europe. We have 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and even 4-5-1. We do things differently in Europe sometimes. It’s about balance and concentration. Discipline and focus is even more important in Europe than in Scotland.
“You learn a lot about European football but also about your own team. Everybody understands that we have to make improvements. It’s very clear to me what I need to improve for next season. You could say defending but it’s about individual improvements and improving as a team. We have to make the squad stronger and better. That is about developing the players who are here and adding some who can make us even stronger. This transfer window could be important. But it’s not just about getting new players but getting the right ones too.
“Craig Gordon has a point [about being more streetwise] because we are giving away goals too easily. If we had been outplayed I would have been very worried as I would have been thinking we were really struggling. But in a lot of the games we’ve had good control and not conceded lots of chances. Craig hasn’t made as many saves as last year when in Europe he was man of the match a lot. So it’s positive that we have given away fewer chances. But we are giving teams two big chances in every game with bad defending. A lot of that is from set plays but also individual mistakes.”