Valencia v Celtic: Was that enough for a new European blueprint?

Despite Brendan Rodgers’ insistence that Thursday’s trip to the Mestalla was going to feature the same ‘we-play-our-game’ tactics that got Celtic to this point, it was in fact a different approach.

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The visitors lined up in a 3-4-3 that became a 5-4-1 when they were defending. The banks of five and four worked like a structure as the individual parts supported each other and shut off avenues for Valencia to get through - well, until one of the pieces proved to be faulty.

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It was a lamentable irony that Jeremy Toljan’s second yellow card — which was almost a mirror image of his first as he got caught ball watching and allowed his man to steal a run on the inside — came just after the BT Sport graphics department had alerted Celtic fans watching at home to the fact that their side had forced eight shots to that point, while Valencia didn’t have any.

Brendan Rodgers embraces captain Scott Brown at full time. Picture: Getty

It was a lesson, if it were needed, that you don’t necessarily have commit men forward to be the bigger attacking threat. One can’t help but wonder whether Celtic would be out of Europe at this moment if they’d used a similar approach in the game at Celtic Park last week.

Another piece of irony was that Rodgers sought to do this when his side were chasing a 2-0 deficit. The Parkhead boss understood that going hell for leather was always going to be end one way. Valencia had their opponents figured out perfectly in the first leg, but they appeared to be completely caught cold by this approach. It wasn’t until after the 30-minute mark that the high pressing, such a staple of the first encounter, began being used regularly. They clearly expected Celtic to try and come at them again and were content just to pick them off.

In actuality it was Celtic who could have done that, especially if Oli Burke’s touch and decision making was stronger in a couple of key moments.

Media observers have often called for Rodgers to be more pragmatic in Europe. In fairness to him, he has on occasion and it hasn’t gone well. Barcelona, Bayern Munich and PSG were hardly all-out attack experiments and Celtic were gubbed in each and every one of them. But this time it felt different. There seemed a clearer gameplan of what to do, both in a defensive and attacking sense.

The fact that they looked more likely to open the scoring before the red should at least demonstrate that a more disciplined and defensive outlook can utilised at Celtic Park and they can still hold serious aspirations of winning the game. While he’s switched it up on occasion away from home, he’s never done so in Glasgow and the once impenetrable fortress has seen its fair share of defeats during his tenure.

The counter argument is obvious, and one which may see Rodgers’ hesitate from using such a system regularly if he remains at Celtic into next season’s European adventure. That is, Valencia were sleep walking until Toljan’s red card. Yes the away side’s tactics played a part, but intensity and concentration were almost non-existent from the hosts’ play in the opening half-hour. There are few adversaries, especially at this level, who will approach Celtic in such a manner unless they have an almost unassailable lead from the first leg.

For the meantime we can safely say that Rodgers’ plan in the Mestalla regained some of the pride lost in the first leg, and perhaps gave the manager something to think about.