Five talking points from Celtic 2-1 RB Leipzig
The mojo’s back
Celtic have been in imperious form since losing to RB Leipzig in Germany, swatting aside all comers in Scotland in all competitions.
In the three games played since, Celtic have scored 13, conceded none, reached the final of a national cup competition and are within a point of top spot in the Scottish Premiership.
Whether something has finally clicked or the loss in Leipzig was the catalyst for change, the Hoops appear to have rediscovered their mojo, and look much more like the team that went on that long unbeaten run.
Lustig losing it?
It seems churlish to pick out a negative point after such a fine win on the European stage, but Mikael Lustig is something of a weak point in this Celtic team.
It could be argued that he was partly culpable for Leipzig’s goal, in terms of his positioning, and he was guilty of lax passing at times, but it would also be unfair not to highlight the good spells he enjoyed against the Germans - after all, Celtic kept Leipzig out for 78 minutes.
However, there is a nagging feeling that the Swede’s ability is on the wane, and while his experience means he still has a role to play in this team, you’d imagine Celtic will be prioritising a right back come January, with Cristian Gamboa seemingly out of the picture (albeit he is currently injured) and Anthony Ralston still pretty raw despite a run in the Hoops first team and a loan spell with Dundee United.
It wasn’t so long ago that speculation was mounting over Ryan Christie’s future at Celtic. He’d had two loan spells with Aberdeen, and then Sunderland were linked with a move during the summer.
But, fair play to the midfielder, who has really come onto a game in recent weeks.
He made the difference against Hearts in the Betfred Cup semi-final and scored the third, and followed that up with goals against Dundee and Hearts again in the league.
His performance against Leipzig was excellent; he ran all night and didn’t give his opponents a moment’s peace - and he may just have played himself into the Scotland starting line-up for the games against Albania and Israel.
Benkovic and Boyata
Celtic’s defensive woes have been well documented in recent months - injuries, transfer speculation, shipping three against Salzburg - but Brendan Rodgers looks to have found a diamond duo in Filip Benkovic and Dedryck Boyata.
The pair were solid for Celtic against Ralf Rangnick’s well-drilled team, snuffing out attack after attack, getting vital blocks in and generally doing a fine job of protecting Craig Gordon’s goal.
With Kristoffer Ajer still an option if Rodgers wants to play three at the back, Jack Hendry in reserve and Jozo Simunovic still to come back from injury, Celtic suddenly look a lot stronger at the back.
There has been some talk of Leicester recalling Benkovic if Harry Maguire joins Manchester United, but Celtic should be pulling out all the stops to ensure the Croatian - and Boyata - remain in Glasgow after the January window shuts.
Result without key players
No Scott Brown. No Leigh Griffiths. No Olivier Ntcham. No problem. Celtic were missing three key starting players, as well as Daniel Arzani, Eboue Kouassi, Gamboa and Simunovic.
That Celtic were still able to record a fine win over Leipzig who, despite resting some of their key players, still had a lot of talent in their ranks, shouldn’t be overlooked.
Brown and Ntcham have been integral to previous wins in Europe and in Scotland, while Griffiths netted the winner in the first Group B match against Rosenborg.
Rodgers deserves credit for managing to get the best out of what was certainly not a first-choice starting XI - or at least, probably wouldn’t have been this time last month.
The return of five of the seven injured players could be a massive boost as Celtic look to reach the knockout stages of the Europa League.