Four talking points from Celtic 1-0 Zenit

Celtic have taken a precious 1-0 lead going into the second leg of their Europa League showdown with Zenit St Petersburg. We look at four talking points from the match...

Eboue Kouassi was a vital cog in the Celtic midfield. Picture: SNS Group
Eboue Kouassi was a vital cog in the Celtic midfield. Picture: SNS Group

READ MORE - Celtic 1 Zenit 0: McGregor goal gives Hoops precious first leg lead

Rodgers’ team selection

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During the Champions League group stages, Brendan Rodgers effectively said he would never park the bus in a bid to grind out results against Europe’s elite. While he didn’t U-turn on that vow against Zenit, he nevertheless went for a more cautious line-up against the Russians which seemed to fox them in the first half.

Rodgers flooded the midfield with six in the middle - a narrow diamond with James Forrest and Kieran Tierney on the flanks - with Celtic reverting to a 4-5-1 or even 5-4-1 when Zenit attempted to hit the Hoops on the counter-attack.

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The introduction of Charly Musonda on 73 minutes - a planned tactical decision - paid dividends as the on-loan Chelsea starlet’s deft flick set up Callum McGregor’s winner.

He showed great faith in sticking with Kristoffer Ajer and Jozo Simunovic at the back and the pair didn’t let him down.

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McGregor does it in Europe - again

When Callum McGregor came on for the last 25 minutes or so against Partick Thistle, it may have looked like Rodgers saving Musonda for Thursday night when, in actual fact, it was to give McGregor game time before he started against Zenit.

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Aside from netting a fine winner, McGregor’s all-round performance was impressive. He scored a fine goal against Bayern Munich at Parkhead, and always looked like he might repeat the feat tonight.

He gave the Zenit defence no rest, got forward well to support Dembele and got into good positions countless times.

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With Eboue Kouassi, Scott Brown and Olivier Ntcham doing the dirty work in midfield, McGregor had licence to roam, which he did to great effect. The Russians just couldn’t cope with him.

Only bad luck and resolute defending from Roberto Mancini’s side prevented him from finding the net sooner than he did, but his 78th minute strike was the cherry on top of an excellent shift.

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Rusty Zenit?

Zenit came into this game having not played a competitive fixture since December 11.

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Although they had looked impressive in a series of friendly matches ahead of the Celtic clash, there was a lot of talk about how the Russians would cope with returning to action in Europe, rather than a league game.

As it happened, Zenit took a while to warm up and rarely threatened the Celtic goal - and when they did, through Anton Zabalotny, they found Dorus de Vries in impervious form.

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Top scorers in the group stages, Zenit looked oddly toothless in Glasgow, but they could be a different beast entirely in the return leg.

Kouassi’s experience

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Prior to joining Celtic, Eboue Kouassi had spent three seasons with Krasnodar and had played a handful of matches in the Russian Premier League after coming up through their youth ranks.

While not a great amount, his knowledge and experience of both the Zenit players and their style of play will have been invaluable to Rodgers and Celtic.

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The presence of Kouassi in the Celtic midfield afforded McGregor the ability to cover lots of ground in the attacking third; switching from working the flanks to coming through the middle.

Rodgers’ formation choice and tactics got the best out of Kouassi, and he’ll likely be a big player in the return leg as well.

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READ MORE - Celtic 1 Zenit 0 - How the Celtic players rated