Education can be excruciating in the football domain. Celtic were taken to school by Valencia the other night. Ryan Christie, one of the home midfielders that made myriad mistakes, was provided with a painful tutorial in what it takes at this level by his direct opponent Dani Parejo.
The Spanish side’s captain was immaculate in orchestrating his team’s 2-0 Europa League victory that makes Thursday’s second leg of the last-32 tie in the Mestalla a mission impossible for Brendan Rodgers’ men.
Christie doesn’t intend to let his outings against Valencia pass without picking up pointers that he can use to progress as a player – starting with this afternoon’s trip to Kilmarnock.
“Going into the Valencia game, one of the things you’re looking forward to is coming up against top-class players,” he said. “And while we’re all really deflated and disappointed at the result, when you look back at it you need to make sure it’s not just a defeat, it’s something to learn from.
“It was frustrating. We started the game perfectly in our eyes, the first 15-20 minutes we dominated possession and looked like we could be a threat going forward. But to be fair to Valencia they came with a really good game plan. For a team to be playing 4-4-2, you’d think we could open them up but we found it so difficult to break them down and find spaces between their midfield.
“We can only blame ourselves, though, because at times our discipline on the ball and lack of control when we actually had it cost us in the end. It’s two counter-attacks we lose the goals from. We’re disappointed because we wanted a result at home.
“Towards the end of the first half and into the second when they were more dropping off the game we were forcing it, trying to break them down, and that’s when the mistakes came. They punished us for every mistake we made and we need to learn from that, because teams in Europe are going to do that to you. It’s a learning curve.
“But we don’t have much time to think about it, we need to switch on for Kilmarnock. But we’ll turn it around and be positive by the time we get to the game over there. If we get an early goal out there it changes everything so we’re far from completely out of it, although obviously we’ve given ourselves a hard task. We’ll try to learn from Thursday though.”
Celtic need to learn lessons about how to play Steve Clarke’s Kilmarnock on their own synthetic surface. In two meetings, the Ayrshire club have had the measure of them, generating the unusual statistic of back-to-back defeats for Rodgers’ men at the home of a Scottish opponent.
“We want to rectify that, you don’t want to have records like that anywhere so we’ll be up for it,” said the 23-year-old. “It’s been a hard place to go, and not just for us. We’re desperate to win it, though, not just for the sake of the league but also to bounce back from the Valencia loss. It’s always nice after a disappointment like that to have a game so quickly because all you want to do is get back out there and turn your momentum around.”
No opposition player would describe playing on the Rugby Park plastic as a “nice” experience. Christie, in common with many of his fellow pros, was content to sign the PFA Scotland asking for astroturf pitches to be banned from Scotland’s top flight.
“Ask any player and they’ll say they prefer grass to astroturf, but at the same time it’s been in the league for a few years and we’re all used to it,” the Highlander said. “We know at the start of every season we’ll have to play a few games on astroturf and you have to get used to it and change your game accordingly.”