The return match will be a long night
This was the time to take advantage of Borussia Mönchengladbach. Not only were they sitting in ninth place in the Bundesliga, they went into the match without several key players. Celtic, meanwhile, were riding the crest of a wave following the draw with Manchester City, and Parkhead was absolutely electric come kick-off time. It was set up to be the perfect storm for Brendan Rodgers’ men.
In the end, even though a couple of errors cost them, there can be no doubting the better team won on the night. Gladbach were quick, slick and purposeful in their play. Celtic were slow, slack and hesitant in comparison. If that’s what it was like at Celtic Park, with all that was weighted in their favour, what’s it going to be like in Stadion im Borussia-Park in two weeks time?
There’s still a ton of work to be done
Brendan Rodgers is still got some ways to go before he can realise his dream of turning Celtic into a side that can go to any team and, in his words, impose their own style on the game. At present, even at home, to the third weakest team in the group, he still had to adjust the way his team were playing. The start of the second half saw Celtic begin a little more conservatively than the first, with the team a little deeper, hoping to draw their opponents in and hit them on the counter. In fairness, they looked a lot more comfortable in the period until Kolo Toure’s mistake granted Lars Stindl the means in which to score.
City weren’t ready for Celtic to come out swinging three weeks ago. They expected an opponent to pack their own penalty box and were caught cold as a result. Gladbach were ready and they knew how to handle it.
Monchengladbach paid Celtic their due respect
Celtic might not realise it, but Gladbach paid them a great compliment with their system. Usually a team that prefers three-at-the-back, they changed things up and started with a 4-4-1-1, with the excellent Stindl allowed to drift anywhere he pleased between attack and midfield. This was key to their performance because they weren’t streaming forward in great numbers. The centre-midfield pair of Tobias Strobl and Christoph Kramer would often stay in their positions unless Gladbach were pining Celtic back through a period of sustained possession, while full-backs Julian Korb and Oscar Wendt would pick and choose their moments when to attack from deep. It was a defensive gameplan aimed at keeping a narrow shape, thereby stopping Celtic from hurting them in central areas and in behind. They were able to be as threatening as they were and keep as much of the ball thanks to an almost telepathic understanding between the front four. Wide men Ibrahima Traoré and Jonas Hofmann would always drift inside to offer support to the strike-pairing, and the group would execute short, crisp passing to maneuver around Celtic’s defenders and get into some great positions in the final third. Only some terrific last-ditch defending denied them a couple of first half goals.
Celtic have to be faultless at this level
Kolo Toure was excellent in the first-half, and then one mistake cost his side the opening goal, which left Celtic facing a massive uphill battle they couldn’t overcome - especially not when he made another, which wrapped the game up.
The first one wasn’t the worst error, but it was a cruel reminder of just how quickly things can slip away. You can’t give opponents an inch in the Champions League. Celtic were not the better side, but they’d rode the storm and were beginning to get some confidence when the goal popped in out of nowhere.
The same can be said of the side further forward. Scott Sinclair passed up a couple of good chances, while Rogic saw his passing accuracy dip. Both played relatively well, the same can be said of the entire team, but it wasn’t the flawless display of the City game.
Tom Rogic could learn a thing or two from Lars Stindl
The visitors made it their business to hassle Rogic any time he got the ball. It was the right tactical decision to make. The Australian showed how deadly he could be when he finally found some space in the first half, putting in an inch-perfect through pass for Scott Sinclair who should have given Celtic the lead, or at the very least made Yann Sommer work in the away goal.
This was a lesson for Rogic as he’ll looks to take his game to the next level: what to do when the other team make it their business to stop you from playing. Stindl’s performance, in a similar role to Rogic’s, is something he could look to. Though Scott Brown and Nir Bitton were operating in his area of the park, the Mönchengladbach captain continually found space and was the outstanding player on the night.