There is, though, no downplaying the sense of occasion guaranteed on Tuesday evening as Champions League returns to Celtic Park for the first time in almost five years – and in blockbuster fashion. The hosting of the game’s ultimate A-lister who also just happens to be competition holders will produce a blitzkrieg of anticipation and emotion across the arena to assault every sense. At least in the early stages. Ange Postecoglou’s determination to go toe-to-toe with even the very best in the continent will then introduce an almighty risk element that carries the danger of his team being open to a doing. Yet, having stepped up their relentless high pressing and squeezing of space on the domestic front, Celtic defender Cameron Carter-Vickers believes it would be more foolhardy to dispense with an approach that has become second nature of Postecoglou’s players.
“Of course there’s risk,” said the US international. “To use that squeezing of the pitch as an example, we need to be wary of the fact they have such good players at the top of the pitch. So there has to be a balance. You need to push up at the right times but also be ready to drop when required. But if we can be brave and do that then it will definitely benefit us. I think that’s a tactic we use against every opponent. That is obviously led by the manager who wants us to get up the pitch as quickly as possible and squeeze the space. That’s designed to give the opposition less space to play in but also to prevent us dealing with long balls closer to our own goal. It keeps the danger away when you play so high up the pitch.”
That is the theory, anyway, and there were signs in the Europa League group stages last season – which came in the early months of Postecoglou’s tenure – that Celtic could unsettle top class opposition by daring to go after them. Equally, in losing 4-3 away to Real Betis, and 3-2 in Leverkusen after being on the receiving end of a 4-0 defeat by the Germans in their own backyard, a team in its infancy were ultimately undone by their limitations. Postecoglou’s men have earned the right to demonstrate they have refined their high wire act. Especially since, with only two wins in their past 18 Champions League outings, previous strategies, which have comprised front foot, back foot, and a mix of front-and-back foot football, have come up short. Carter-Vickers maintains they laid the groundwork last season for what could be possible.
“We will go out there and try to play the way we always do,” he said. “I don’t think there’s much point in trying to change it because we are not used to playing a different way. If we suddenly changed we wouldn’t play as well. So we need to try to impose our style and go from there. The crowd will help us. The atmosphere in the stadium will be electric and we will feed off that and play to the best of our ability. There were bits and bobs [of lessons to be learn from last season]. We probably need to be a little bit cleverer in our defending, our press and our team shape. But look at the two Leverkusen games as examples. This sounds silly but although we lost 4-0 in the home game I thought we did alright. Their goalkeeper made a few saves that night and it could have been tighter. The away game was much closer. Okay, we lost 3-2 but we went 2-1 up that night which shows that we are able to adapt and improve on our performances at European level.”