Dundee might have run Celtic close on Saturday but they are not Bayern Munich. And Celtic won’t be Celtic this coming Wednesday. Or at least not the version put out by manager Brendan Rodgers at the weekend, complete with multiple changes.
Olivier Ntcham, the match- winner with a swirling 61st-minute long range effort, is glad of this, providing, of course, he’s not one of those making way.
The influential Scott Brown, one of a clutch of first-team regulars who missed Saturday’s victory, will step back into a Celtic midfield that found the going tougher than they would have liked against a diligent, easy-on-the-eye Dundee.
Ntcham recovered from a sticky start to help send Celtic on their way against Anderlecht last month with the defence-splitting pass leading to Leigh Griffiths’ opener in the 3-0 win. It would be a surprise if Ntcham does not feature next to the restored Brown in the Allianz Arena.
“I think it is very important to have our captain fit again and I hope he is going to play in this game,” said Ntcham. “I am very happy for him that he is back.
“He gives the team a real team spirit. He is always fighting for the team and he refuses to ever give up. Without him in the team, the same feeling on the pitch is not there.”
Ntcham praised Brown for the way he helped him settle after such an unsteady opening in Brussels, Celtic’s last Champions League outing.
“He helps me a lot when we are on the pitch together,” he said. “There have been times when things have not been so good, maybe when I have not felt so comfortable, and he speaks to me and encourages me to keep going. That was what it was like against Anderlecht.
“At the start of the match against Anderlecht, I even surprised myself,” he added. “I felt like I was missing everything and not getting things right. But some days can be like that. On other days it seems that everything you do is good. I then had a pass that helped to set up the first goal so that gave me a bit of confidence and I could go on from there.”
Ntcham believes Celtic have already played the next European champions in Paris Saint Germain. However, Bayern Munich, are potential challengers for the crown.
Ntcham knows all about compatriots Franck Ribery and Corentin Tolisso and has been ragging with former France Under-21 colleague Kingsley Coman, one of Bayern’s rising stars and among the scorers in Saturday’s 5-0 thrashing of SC Freiburg.
Coman has been promoted to the full international squad but was with his old team-mates last week at the France football base in Clairefontaine. “Myself and Moussa [Dembele] teased him a bit [about Wednesday’s game],” said Ntcham. “But we laugh like that all the time when we are together.”
Dembele, inset, who was also with the France Under-21s last week, could come into contention for a starting place in midweek after he featured for 15 minutes on Saturday. He replaced the struggling Griffiths but could not add to Ntcham’s earlier strike.
Indeed, it was Dundee who came closest after Celtic went ahead. Roarie Deacon should have equalised for the visitors with 11 minutes left when he was left one-on-one with the returning Dorus De Vries, who was excellent. The Celtic goalkeeper, playing his first game in over a year, tipped the ball over.
Paul McGowan also saw a half- volley beaten away by De Vries at the near post as Dundee made a spirited attempt to secure something from the afternoon. Rodgers was impressed with Dundee’s willingness to take the ball in tight areas and referred to them as a “good little side”. He could have added “young” to this description – Glen Kamara and Lewis Spence, who caught the eye in midfield, are only 21. Jack Hendry, who Rodgers tipped as a future Scotland centre-half, is just 22.
Hendry was forced off after a clash of heads with a clumsy Cristian Gamboa. Dundee manager Neil McCann felt this was the clearest of three penalty appeals for the visitors.
McGowan agreed. He is among Dundee’s few veterans having just turned 30. He says he is relishing life under McCann, which is perhaps surprising since he is regarded as previous manager Paul Hartley’s man and hasn’t always featured in the starting XI this season.
His mistake led to Celtic’s winner. However, bringing the ball down in midfield, as he was trying to do before being dispossessed, is encouraged by McCann. McGowan could expect pardon.
“The gaffer wants us to play and I love it,” he said. “It’s the way to play. Yes we are going to get caught in possession now and again, but it’s part and parcel of trying to do it.
“The manager wants no fear,” he added. “We will make mistakes, but who cares? The fans will be on the edge of their seats, but it’s the way to go. We will lose goals by it, but, as the gaffer says, that’s on me. He wants us to do it.”
Dundee had very little to lose at Celtic Park. If they can maintain these lofty principles in their next three winnable games against Partick Thistle, Motherwell and Hamilton, such dedication to style really will merit applause.