The Rodgers Project is in motion
Brendan Rodgers said he wants to develop this Celtic side to the point where they can go away from home to anyone in Europe and impose their style on the hosts. They are still far away from doing so, at least with any sort of consistency, but last night we had a glimpse of what that dream might look like.
After surviving the initial onslaught in the opening five minutes, they settled into the contest nicely and passed the ball about with real composure.
They were able to do so thanks to a small tactical change by which Tom Rogic was stationed further back and Stuart Armstrong pushed the furthest forward of the centre-midfield three. Rogic was neutered as an attacking force but his poise and technique on the ball would help Celtic retain possession even when under pressure.
There were few occasions in the 90 minutes when they looked like the away side.
Celtic’s midfield can’t track runners
Celtic almost let the game slip away in the middle third as their passing suddenly became very slack. It started shortly after the concession of the opening goal, which exposed a familiar frailty in the Celtic rearguard. Too often this season, the champions have been exposed by an opposing attacker finding space in the box, getting in between the backline and retreating midfielders. On this occasion it was Tom Rogic failing to track Lars Stindl, who fired the hosts in front, giving life to the stadium and throwing Celtic off their stride.
Dembele adds a valuable element away from home
Moussa Dembele’s ability to hold play up and make something out of speculative high balls are two qualities which make Celtic a greater force away from home in Europe. As good as Leigh Griffiths is, he would often struggle away in these type of matches. Left to fend for himself, the striker would be starved of service and unable to do much with what little came his way.
Playing up the field from a backline missing its three strongest ball players in Kolo Toure, Kieran Tierney and Jozo Simunovic, Dembele had his share of long balls directed towards him. However, instead of allowing the play to keep coming back, he was often able to make something of the situation, which kept Celtic relevant as an attacking force and provided a much needed out-ball.
It’s time to give Roberts a run in the team
James Forrest has deserved his run in the team this season. With Scott Sinclair looking to drift inside often from the left side, he provides natural width on the opposite flank. However, the presence of Cristian Gamboa tearing up the wing from full-back reduces the need for such a weapon. Against Gladbach, when the Costa Rican pushed forward, Forrest would drift inside. When this happens, the guile and subtlety of Patrick Roberts is a much better option to unlock opposing defences, as he showed by getting involved in the build-up to the penalty and then playing through a terrific ball for Callum McGregor, who really should have given Celtic a famous win.
Griffiths absence on the bench was felt
Liam Henderson and, particularly, McGregor each passed up chances from the bench to win this game. In fairness to the two young midfielders, their energy provided the spark required to keep Celtic going until the end. The visitors just simply missed the goal threat of Griffiths in the closing minutes as they pinned Gladbach back in their own area.
There weren’t a lot of options on offer for Rodgers with Griffiths out. Nadir Ciftci sat among the substitutes, but it’s hard to envision a circumstance where the Celtic boss would have called on the striker’s services. Strength in depth is still an issue, even if Celtic’s reserve XI would likely walk the Ladbrokes Premiership, as evidenced by the win over Ross County last midweek