Celtic's rollercoaster continues apace - will it rise or dip at notoriously difficult venue

The Ange Postecoglou Celtic rollercoaster was at full pace on Thursday as they kicked off their Europa League group-stage campaign in Seville against Real Betis.

Jota impressed on the wing for Celtic.
Jota impressed on the wing for Celtic.

The 4-3 defeat by the Spanish La Liga outfit was a microcosm of Postecoglou’s tenure. Fast-flowing, attacking football, goals, but also an openness at the back that cost them dear. Watching Celtic this season is undoubtedly going to be fun, if not pragmatic.

There was a moment when new Portuguese winger Jota bore down on Claudio Bravo’s goal with the opportunity to make it 3-0 to the visitors. Had his deft clip not been saved by the veteran Chilean goalkeeper, then we may well be writing about Celtic’s first-ever win on Spanish soil.

Jota, loan signing from Benfica, showed why he is regarded as such a talent by those within Celtic Park, but three of Postecoglou’s forward-thinking players were not available to him. Georgios Giakoumakis, a hulking target man who scored plenty of goals for VVV Venlo in the Eredivisie, is not ready yet to make his debut, but once fit, he is likely to lead the line. New talisman Kyogo Furuhashi is still injured, but he is an automatic starter and Israeli winger Liel Abada missed out on Betis for religious reasons. He is another Postecoglou will turn to.

With Furuhashi still sidelined, this is an important moment for Albian Ajeti, the Swiss striker, to prove that he has a long-term future in this starting XI. Three goals in two games will have helped the former West Ham and Basel hitman, but the millions spent on Giakoumakis and Furuhashi suggest they will lead the line more often than not.

To a lesser extent, James Forrest – absent due to injury – will look to grasp whatever opportunities come his way. A stalwart under previous managers Neil Lennon and Brendan Rodgers, he has genuine competition from Jota on the right flank.

There are still defensive concerns to address though. Celtic are very open, and left central defenders Carl Starfelt and Cameron Carter-Vickers exposed once again. Domestically, they may get more leeway for being so expansive, but Postecoglou knows that, in tomorrow’s opponents Livingston in the cinch Premiership, they play a wounded animal.

The Lions have not won in the league this season, but a good point on the road last week at Dundee gives them a platform to build on – plus they have their artificial pitch, a surface Celtic have not won on – under three different managers – since the West Lothian side returned to the top flight.

“It’s a good challenge for us,” said Postecoglou. “It’s always a difficult place to go and play. Every game is a threat, every game is a challenge, and what we’ve tried to do is approach every game in a similar manner.

“Livingston haven’t won this season but that’s probably given them that drive to get that first win, and we’ve got to make sure we’re ready for that. It’s a busy period and we’re going to have to juggle league and cup games. As I said, hopefully we’ll get some players back which will allow us to rest a few of the players because it’s going to be important that we have a stronger core of players to call upon.”