Celtic took the lead on three occasions but had to be content with a point against Manchester City following a thriller encounter at Celtic Park.
Craig Fowler gives his take on a breathtaking 90 minutes.
There’s life in Celtic’s European campaign
Qualifying from the Group of Death will likely remain too tall an order. To pull off that task, Celtic will have to hope they can replicate this performance away at either Manchester City or Borussia Monchengladbach, or likely both, to take one of the top two spots. History would tell us that’s unlikely to be the case. What they can hope for after tonight’s results - and don’t sleep on the importance of Barcelona’s come-from-behind win in Germany - is that Barca and Manchester City will both take maximum points off Gladbach, leaving Celtic with the task of defeating the Germans at Parkhead to qualify for the Europa league. Though it’ll be easier said than done, they can certainly achieve it if they show the kind of intensity, energy and desire they did against City.
Celtic, at home, can take on the best at their own game
You can’t go toe to toe with the likes of Manchester City and Barcelona. You have to concede possession, keep it tight and take your chances when you get them.
Well, that’s what we all thought, and we could not have been more wrong.
Celtic hurt City by pressing their opponents high up the park, forcing mistakes and getting men forward quickly to support the attack. You’re not supposed be able to do that to a Pep Guardiola team without getting completely murdered at the other end. (Which, in fairness, is kind of what happened, what with the three goals conceded at home. Thankfully they were clinical at the other end)
They did tire as the game went on. Then again, so did City. The visitors finished with a flourish and could have taken all three points at the death, but from the 60th minute until the last ten or so, they were just as happy as the Celtic players for a breather in what was a frenzied encounter.
Tom Rogic will be a top class player (if he can improve his stamina)
As great as Rogic was last season, and he really was, he never transferred his domestic form to European competition. Continually he would go missing from such fixtures against stronger opponents, as he’d struggle to make things happen on the ball. That changed in this game. During the first half, he looked just at home as he does in Scottish football. City found it so hard to get the ball from him, thanks to his rare combination of size and technical ability, while his movement off the ball seems to be improving under Brendan Rodgers. He was able to show his class against one of the world’s strongest teams and you couldn’t help but think it is a level he could play at every week.
Then the second half started. Just like the Old Firm game a few weeks back, his energy dropped and he was subbed for Stuart Armstrong. While Armstrong did his bit, helping to close down the opposing defence and almost putting Scott Sinclair through with a lobbed pass that drew the linesman’s flag, there was little doubt Celtic missed Rogic’s ability on the ball after the Australian was removed. If he can get to a level where he’s able to play in such a high intensity game for the full 90 minutes, he’ll be worth another eight-figure fee to Celtic when EPL suitors come calling.
Things still need tightened up defensively for Celtic
Rodgers didn’t want to focus on the negatives post-match, so I’ll take care of that for him. As great as Celtic were going forward and throwing City off their gameplan, they were still too vulnerable at the back. If you’re going to attack Manchester City, as Celtic did, then there’s always going to be avenues to exploit. But that doesn’t excuse some of the ease with which City threatened the home goal at times. The first goal came from an attack that went right through the centre of the Celtic defence. It came out of nothing. The visitors had barely been out their own half and suddenly Erik Sviatchenko was forced to clear for a corner. They then twice failed to fully clear their lines before Fernandinho controlled Aleksandar Kolarov’s wayward shot and finished beyond Craig Gordon.
Set-pieces were a cause for concern throughout the match. This was despite the obvious physical advantage Celtic held as City had very few in their starting XI over 6ft in height. With his side still to register a clear sheet in the Scottish Premiership during his tenure, it’s something Rodgers can work on and improve without the need for wholesale reinforcements in the transfer window.
Sometimes there’s nothing you can do
It would be unfair to end on a negative after a terrific Celtic display and a thoroughly enjoyable night of football. Celtic could have done more to prevent goals one and two, but there was little that could have been done to stop City’s third equaliser. The passing was short, crisp, rapid and they cut Celtic open on the right. It was a piece of football any opponent would have struggled to stop. In the end it helps bring the result into perspective. No-one gave them a chance before kick-off and yet they scored three times against the English Premier League leaders.