Celtic entertain Kazakhstani outfit Shakhter Karagandy on Wednesday night, we take a look at the match and what it means to the Hoops – both the club and the fans.
Celtic were embarrassed in Astana last week. There can be no arguments, and no excuses, they were undone by use of the wrong tactics, downright pathetic defending, and a real lack of leadership and responsibility on the park that would have seen Celtic comfortably ease into the group stages of the Champions League.
But it is the simplicity of the task that was in hand that is a ray of hope for Celtic on Wednesday. Shakhter are not a great side – they don’t pop the ball round their team, they don’t make runs from deep that are incredibly difficult to mark, they power their way through games. They’re not coming to Glasgow to impress, they’re coming to defend. Their five man defence on show last week was incredibly fragile, especially on either flank, and provided Celtic keep the ball wide, three without reply is not insurmountable.
Without Boerrigter, Samaras, Commons, And Stokes Celtic fought back from 0-2 down to league leaders Inverness at the weekend, and whilst Boerrigter is highly unlikely to play a part, is an absolute necessity that the latter three all play.
The reason for a lack of clear goalscoring chances in Eurasia last week, was the lack of a striker. An unfit Giorgios Samaras (who is without doubt a better winger than he ever will be a striker) was asked to lead the line, and it didn’t work. Celtic must go back to basics to progress, and by this I mean a solid 4-4-2, controlling possession for 90 minutes and having two strikers on the pitch ready to take the ball into feet and shoot on sight.
Anything remotely resembling an organised defensive performance combined with the swift attacking football the club showed in last season’s Champions League and it will be a walkover.
Following their nervy victory over Elfsborg, Celtic have the safety net of the Europa League, guaranteeing them European Football until Christmas, but it is the Champions League that everyone involved with the club has their sights set.
With the glorious European nights of last season fresh in the mind, the thought of taking on the likes of Tromso, Maribor and Rapid Vienna is almost unbearable when you consider nights against sides like Juventus and Barcelona were so near. After European elimination, Celtic will be left playing only domestic matches against diminishing crowds that in the end mean nothing – no team in Scotland has a squad that matches the depth or quality that the Scottish Champions possess.
And it’s not just a football perspective that the club will suffer from. The well publicised £10m+ windfall awarded for reaching the group stages of Europe’s premier competition is invaluable to a club where the reward for winning the domestic treble is under £3m. It’s money that at a time where Scottish football is undergoing a massive transition, Celtic desperately need.
The simple fact of the matter for Celtic fans is that not qualifying for the Champions League is simply not an option. The backlash of going out to Shakhter has been bubbling since last week’s result, and should Celtic fail to turn around their deficit, it’ll be a European night at Celtic Park that remains in the memory for a very different reason.