Even the most die hard Celtic fan would admit the club do not historically had a good record away from home in European competition. While the last outing saw the Hoops beat Ferencvaros, gaining a measure of revenge for an early champions league exit at their hands, the prospect of travelling to Germany to face an in form Bayer Leverkusen is daunting. Not to mention the fact Postecoglou’s men lost the first leg 4-0. Added to this pressure is the fact that if Celtic don’t take something back to Parkhead for the final group game against Real Betis, and the Spaniards beat the Hungarians, then they cannot finish any higher than third.
Despite already securing a place in the Europa Conference after Christmas, there will be a desire for the team to exceed expectations and qualify for the Europa League proper. Looking at the managers thoughts ahead of Thursday it seems he believes a result is possible.
‘I know we lost 4-0 but anyone at the game would agree there wasn’t that much of a disparity between the two teams. People say it must have been a thumping but the score doesn’t tell the story of the game.’
On the 30th of September, at a packed Celtic Park, Postecoglou’s men faced German giants Bayer Leverkusen. Coming off the back of a tremendously exciting outing against Real Betis, despite the loss, hopes where cautiously optimistic about the prospect of getting a result against such esteemed competition. While Parkhead has been the home of some very famous nights, where some of footballs best teams had fallen short, on this occasion Celtic fell short. On paper a 4-0 defeat is a drubbing. To the outside looking in it would seem the Hoops were battered all over the east end of Glasgow. However, as the manager suggests, the score line doesn’t tell the story of the game. Kyogo missed a few golden chances, some defensive errors proved very costly and their Goalkeeper was in inspired form. This may sound like an excuse, but the stats back that assertion up. Celtic had c.55% possession to Leverkusen’s 45%, they also had the same number of shots, 18 and a better passing success record (c.86% vs 83%). The German side also had only one less save to make than Celtic. If the men in green and white can take their chances, a result away may not be as unrealistic as it seems.
‘We are more settled than last time. If I remember correctly, that was Kyogo’s first game back after being out for a month. It was Cal McGregor’s first for a while too. So we weren’t very settled, our form was up and down in that period.’
Since the defeat to the Germans, Celtic haven’t lost a game. This includes a double header against the Hungarian champs, securing European football after Christmas, closing the game on the league leaders to four points and getting to the final of the Scottish League Cup. With most of the squad at full fitness and ready for selection, Postecoglou finally has options to bring on from the bench. This was used to great effect in the Semi Final against St Johnstone, with James Forrest coming off the bench to score the winner. With Jota shining on the wing, Kyogo up front, McGregor in great form and even Nir Bitton returning to his previous midfield role the team should feel much more confident heading into the fixture. While the game will seems like a lost cause for some, Celtic fans can take heart from the previous performance and, with a bit of luck, may have smiles on their faces come late Thursday night.
‘I feel we are in a good place to have a go at them. Can we take the game to them and come away with a result?…It’s really important that we do that in games like this. Otherwise it’s all bravado without any substance.’
This encapsulates the managers, sometimes maligned, philosophy. He will set his team up to attack and play good, high tempo football. Attack may be the best form of defence. There have been many times Celtic have venture abroad and sat deep, trying to find a moment to counter attack and ‘steal’ a goal. If fans where being honest this approach has rarely worked and, if the team where to lose, surely its better to ‘go down swinging’? This is the question which would normally weigh heavily on a managers mind. Not Ange Postecoglou. His single minded approach has sometimes been labelled naive but it can never be called boring or unambitious. If Celtic can play on the front foot in Europe, dominating games the way they do domestically, who knows how far this club can go. There seems to be no reason this cannot start on Thursday.