Andrew Smith: Caution doesn’t pay when Celtic need aggressive attitude

There often seems a strange betwixt and between that Celtic find themselves in when facing high-level European opposition in their own surrounds. It was hinted at by Oliver Burke ahead of last night’s game. He spoke of the Scottish champions requiring to tease out openings by remaining “patient”.

Celtic captain Scott Brown and manager Brendan Rodgers at full-time. Picture: SNS
Celtic captain Scott Brown and manager Brendan Rodgers at full-time. Picture: SNS

It is a standard line, yes, but one that has become the orthodoxy in the Brendan Rodgers era. The whole idea that Celtic might ever go gung-ho appears gauche to a coach who considers his philosophy to be framed by cerebral 

Yet, classic European nights at Parkhead have all had an element of the up-and-at-’em. Rodgers was recently asked for the high point of his time at Celtic and he cited the 3-3 draw at home to Manchester City in the Champions League in his first season. That was an encounter in which Celtic set about storming the citadel of the enemy from the off. They spooked Pep Guardiola’s side by getting among them. That was how they succeeded in netting twice in the first 20 minutes to allow them to have something to work with.

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Since then, so often the tone has been set by meek opening spells. So it was again last night. Valencia might have always been too powerful, simply too good for Celtic. But the desire, to which they seem wedded, to adopt a methodical approach in the early stages allowed the Spaniards to settle.

Celtic captain Scott Brown and manager Brendan Rodgers at full-time. Picture: SNS

It appeared largely a risk-averse strategy and that does not square with Rodgers’ “without fear” mantra. There was a need to gamble by committing men forward to give the visitors something to think about but that never figured in the gameplan.

Valencia are certainly a high-calibre side but they had won only one of their past six away games in European football. As draw specialists, they do not push for wins but found one largely gifted to them last night because they found themselves up against a largely passive opponent.

Not that Celtic have ever found post-group stage ties at Celtic Park easily negotiable. They have not won one now in six attempts, and never really looked like winning one in all truth.

It is 15 years since they won a knockout tie in Europe, with a barely credible 1-0 win over Barcelona in the 2003-04 Uefa Cup followed by an even more incredible scoreless draw in the Nou Camp to take Martin O’Neill’s side through to the quarter-finals of the tournament. Yet, when they were paired with Villarreal, the Spaniards outclassed Henrik Larsson et al with alarming ease. That prompted O’Neill’s infamous comment about the club requiring to accept “life in the slow lane” in a European context without spending big. And that was when they were comparable to such as a Villarreal. That era has long since zoomed off into the distance.

Rodgers’ purchasing power can be bracketed as B road compared to football’s super highway and the very act of making it to the last 32 of the Europa League, as his team have achieved in these past two seasons, can be considered as largely the limit of their realistic ambitions.

It was not a night to savour either on or off the pitch for Celtic. A minute’s silence to Emiliano Sala was pre-empted by the stadium announcer imploring all to respect the tribute to player whose life had been cut so tragically short. However, some within the ground didn’t even have the decency to do that with several cries, one of them relating to the IRA, piercing the solemnity.

You have to wonder about the bone-headed nature of some football supporters. Perhaps, it is best not to as that only engenders despair.