While last night’s result and performance was far from ideal from a Celtic perspective, the tie is still alive and finely balanced at the halfway stage; all is not lost nor as bad as it could have been if Rosenborg had taken their chances.
The build up to last night’s match was hardly ideal with the banning of the Green Brigade and other season tickets holders grabbing the headlines in the run up to the game; a situation that was poorly handled by all parties involved. In addition to the ‘split’ in the fans caused by the aforementioned bans, Celtic were also rocked by the suspension to Leigh Griffiths and injuries to Moussa Dembele, Erik Sviatchenko, and Dedryk Boyata leaving the club without a recognised striker and only one fit senior centre half.
Rosenborg on the other hand came into the game with no such injury or suspension worries and also had the benefit of half a Norwegian Tippeligaen season under their belts. With a record of 10 wins and only 2 defeats from 17 games thus far, and a 5 point lead atop the table, they are a side that should not have be taken lightly; doubly so given Celtic’s recent record against Scandinavian clubs in European competition.
To cope with the loss of both strikers Celtic deployed Tom Rogic in an unfamiliar false 9 role in front of the supporting triumvirate of Sinclair, Armstrong, and Forrest. From the off the big Aussie looked uncomfortable in his new position and was unsure whether he should be dropping deep to collect the ball and allow the attacking midfield three to run beyond him or if he should position himself around the 18-yard box as more of a target man. In fact, the whole team looked unsure of how to attack without a natural striker leading the line and even the likes of Sinclair and Armstrong, who are normally very reliable, were extremely quiet for long spells despite playing in their strongest positions.
On the whole however, Celtic dominated the first half without causing a threat, keeping the ball for long spells and seemingly happy to recycle possession and wait for the opening to appear. Olivier Ntcham, playing in a more deep lying midfield role than usual was key to keeping play ticking over and showed a good range of passing, even if some of his longer passes failed to reach their intended target.
At the back young Kristoffer Ajer, who played just 30 minutes of football for Celtic last season before his loan at Kilmarnock, looked comfortable on the ball and positionally assured, thus negating the loss of Sviatchenko.
As the game wore on however Rosenborg grew in confidence as it became increasingly noticeable that Celtic were struggling to make any attacking headway without a natural striker. None of Sinclair, Forrest, Armstrong, Rogic, and latterly Hayes were capable of taking on the lead striker role and none performed to their full capabilities in their natural positions. The killer pass wasn’t there and neither was the intelligent striking play that we’ve become accustomed to from Griffiths and Dembele. In short, Celtic were toothless.
To their credit Rosenborg sensed that. They held a deep and disciplined back line, frustrating Celtic for long spells and limiting them to long range efforts. The game plan was to suck Celtic in, allow them possession and hit on the break and if it were not for Craig Gordon and some awful misses then the Norwegian’s could quite easily have been heading back to Trondheim with a healthy advantage.
As it happened Rosenborg missed their chances, at least 3 very presentable opportunities, and while Celtic never really looked like scoring they are still in with a big chance of qualifying for the play-off round.
Nil nil at home in the first leg is not an ideal result but given that Celtic had no strikers and only one senior centre half, it is not the worst result either. Rosenborg failed to score meaning that an away goal in Norway will leave the hosts needing to score twice to go through; should Leigh Griffiths be fit to play in the return game then you would not bet against Celtic scoring that all important away goal.
Brendan Rodgers has already cited Celtic’s ability to score away from home and highlighted that Celtic actually scored more away league goals than home goals last season. Away goals were also scored in Europe at Astana, Monchengladback, and Manchester giving hope that the tie is far from over.
Rosenborg will no doubt come out at Celtic and attack more than they did at Parkhead but if the defence can stay strong and resolute and take a leaf out of Rosenborg’s defensive book, then I see no reason why Celtic can’t snatch a win or score draw. The midfield has the ability to dictate the tempo of the game, even away from home, and if Leigh Griffiths is wrapped in cotton wool to ensure he makes the game then Celtic can look forward to having a real goal scoring threat, something Rosenborg did not have to content with last night.
There’s no need to panic just yet. We can do this.