The last time his men ventured into Europe they were embarrassed but, in Scottish terms, Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers simply has an embarrassment of riches.
Able to chop and change keepers, with a player of Leigh Griffiths’ goalscoring calibre ready, able and willing to come off the bench and make an impact, replacing a guy who has already rattled in ten goals this season, the Celtic manager must know that he has options, and a number of them, when it comes to tackling league matches.
But a comfortable league victory does not always count for much when it comes to Champions League appetisers. The win over Kilmarnock garners Celtic another three points in their ongoing amble through their Premiership fixtures but as the humbling in Barcelona proved, little Rodgers’ men face on domestic duty can prepare them for Europe’s elite.
Manchester City do not possess the prowess of Messi, Neymar, Suarez and Co and a rammed Parkhead offers the team the backing and the extra drive they may not find on the road but the EPL side, with the likes of Sergio Aguero in situ, will pose more of a quandary than yesterday’s guests when they turn up in Glasgow on Wednesday.
Lee Clark’s men took the lead in the 32nd minute but that only served as a wake-up call, intensifying Celtic’s efforts. In fact, having kept the hosts at bay by getting men back in numbers and crowding out the area, pulling off some last-gasp tackles and desperate kamikaze lunges for the duration of the first half an hour, Killie could only hold out for two more minutes after Souleyman Coulibaly had humiliated Celtic goalkeeper Dorus de Vries with a delightful 35-yard lob that dipped just under the bar.
There had been a few key changes to the Celtic line-up following the League Cup quarter-final victory over Alloa, with Craig Gordon asked to reprise his role as De Vries’ support act. But that blunder not only forced Celtic to add a more clinical edge to their attacks, it also served as an opportunity for the Scotland keeper, De Vries staying behind in the dressing room as Gordon emerged at the start of the second half. It wasn’t so much that his gaffer expected better from him, it was that the frustrated goalie demanded better of himself, lashing out and kicking the post in disgust and injuring himself in the process.
Leigh Griffiths was also back in the squad after his four-week injury lay-off. Rodgers had decided not to rush him, giving him a place on the bench and keeping faith with Moussa Dembele, who repaid his manager with two goals, to take his own tally to ten for the season.
Dembele had got the team back on level terms in the 34th minute, sweeping a shot from inside the area past Jamie MacDonald and then adding a second three minutes later, slamming home a cutback to give them the lead.
Into the second half and it was simply a matter of how many as the gulf between the teams became increasingly obvious. Celtic were dominant, playing neat, flowing football around Kilmarnock, who were left chasing shadows and praying for an early finish to the game. Men against boys was how their manager described it, admitting that the scoreline had not flattered the defending champions.
In the 51st minute James Forrest finished off a lovely one-two with Tom Rogic, to make it three and then came Griffiths. He made it 4-1, making sure a Jozo Simunovic header from a corner made it over the line just two minutes after replacing Dembele. But Griffiths’ biggest contribution to team spirit came in the 71st minute. Having been flattened in the box by Greg Taylor, he handed the ball to Scott Sinclair, who is still chasing Jimmy McGrory’s record of eight goals in his first eight league starts for the club. Slotting the penalty away, Sinclair now has just two more games to go to equal it. He must be feeling confident given the number of chances the team are creating.
With five minutes left Rogic made it 6-1 with a low effort from the edge of the box as Celtic got as big a boost as they could ahead of their return to Champions League action.