Celtic's intoxicating quality on show against Blackburn Rovers - and the Champions League identity fascination
Enthusiasm for friendly matches can understandably be low, the tempo slower than the proper thing and lacking a semblance of edge. None of that has been the case during the Scottish champions’ preparations so far.
Twenty three goals and no shortage of feisty challenges and yellow cards across four outings.
Coming away from Celtic Park, supporters should be rubbing their hands at the prospect of what is in store for when the competitive action gets underway. And so should the neutral.
Celtic, with 12 months of Ange Postecoglou’s influence drilled, seeped and cajoled into them, should, in theory, be an even greater, more refined force.
Going by the giving up of seven goals, there are still aspects which are a work in progress. The last two games have seen early concessions. Against Blackburn it was within the first 20 seconds when Callum McGregor of all people took a loose touch and the visitors pounced through former Scotland youth international Sam Gallagher.
But it is part of Celtic’s charm, the fact they have this vulnerability. Where, for the club’s fans with a nervous disposition, it can be walking a tightrope across a barely frozen lake below. Brave opposition can be presented with opportunities from turnovers, as Blackburn were, for both goals.
Slick, quick and tricky
It’s getting the ball which, for teams in Scotland at least, will be the difficult aspect.
Celtic have players, in their starting XI and beyond, who are so slick, quick and tricky. Individuals who can, will and often succeed in bettering their opponent in 1v1 duels.
Postecoglou continues to push his players high up the park. They have the capacity to, like a boa constrictor, wrap themselves around the opposition, not giving them a breath, squeezing, squeezing, squeezing. Suffocating. With and without the ball. When they click it can be like being hypnotised by a table tennis match as the ball pops around at pace. Both goals, from the effervescent Jota and David Turnbull, arrived during such a period.
At one point in the first half, the ball was wide on the right. Matt O’Riley played it infield, Liel Abada stepped over it and who was running onto it on the right-hand edge of the box? Bah Gawd, that's Greg Taylor's music. All the way from left-back.
Then there was Kyogo Furhashi. He ran 30 yards one way to press a centre-back then again, another sprint to press. The Rovers defender made a ‘what the hell am I meant to do’ gesture. Life was uncomfortable.
There will be teams in the Premiership who will have to prepare themselves for a hiding. The fascinating aspect is the Champions League. For the first time since 2018, Celtic are back in the group stages. As a pot 4 side, Postecoglou’s Celtic identity will be tested by Europe's very best.
The talent they possess going forward they have the capacity to hurt teams, even the continent’s elite, but that vulnerability will see that tightrope get thinner and much higher.
For Celtic fans it will be heart-attack inducing. For neutrals it is going to be fascinating.
Celtic (4-3-3): Hart; Juranovic, Carter-Vickers, Welsh, Taylor; McGregor, Turnbull, O’Riley; Jota, Kyogo, Abada.
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