Tonight’s the night and the script, should Celtic chose to follow it, could not be simpler; avoid defeat by more than 3 goals and European football post-Christmas is secured for the first time since the 2014/15 season when the Hoops narrowly lost out to Inter Milan in the last 32 of the Europa League.
Back in August when the draw for the Champions League Group Stage was made the dreamers amongst us could plot the path through to the last 16, most likely at the expense of the Bayern Munich with PSG runaway group winners. The more realistic/pessimistic* (delete as appropriate) saw a battle with Anderlecht for third place as the more likely outcome, and so it has come to pass.
The 3-0 victory in Belgium against Anderlecht in Match Day 2, which saw Celtic display one of their most polished away European performances of recent years, now means that the Hoops are in pole position to claim third sport and a place in the Europe League knockout stages.
Anderlecht, who admittedly were in a state of disarray last time out having recently sacked their manager Rene Weiler, come to Paradise knowing that only a perfect performance will do if they are to turn the tables. Their recent inconsistent domestic form would suggest that this is a task above them.
Throughout the campaign thus far Brendan Rodgers has stuck to his footballing ideals, insisting that regardless the opposition, Celtic try to play their own attacking, short passing game. Obvious weaknesses and flaws were highlighted and severely punished against PSG and, to a certain extent, against Bayern Munich, however, there were promising signs of improvement in the home game against the latter.
In Belgium, the game plan worked perfectly. Celtic kept the ball well – certainly better than Anderlecht –, dictated the tempo of the match and were ruthless in attack. That performance, and tonight’s, however it goes, is what this campaign should be judged on; how Celtic fair against their closest contemporaries, and not the wealthy elite.
Despite needing only a draw to secure, or narrow defeat even, to ensure third spot, Rodgers will once again stick to his guns and send his team out to attack; it’s the Celtic way. Anderlecht’s new manager Hein Vanhaezebrouck has declared that he expects a whirlwind start from Celtic, if his team is not fully prepared for this then the game and their hopes of sneaking third place may well be blown away before the sound of You’ll Never Walk Alone has stopped ringing in their ears.
If further encouragement is needed, the last time Anderlecht visited Parkhead on 5th November, 2003, they were summarily dismissed with ease by 3 goals to 1, Larsson, Miller and Sutton on the scoresheet for Celtic that night. Can the current Celtic produce similar fireworks tonight?
ALSO ON THIS DAY
December 5th, 2012 Celtic played Spartak Moscow at home, needing a win to secure qualification to the last 16 of the Champions League at Benfica’s expense.
On a tense and cold night in Paradise Garry Hooper gave Celtic a first-half lead before Ari levelled the scores 6 minutes before half-time for the Russians. With time running out Celtic were awarded a penalty after Samaras was felled in the box. The rest is pure Celtic history on the big European nights as Kris Commons thumped his spot kick home just under the bar to send Celtic Park into raptures and Celtic into the last 16.
Incidentally, Celtic’s last away victory in the Champions League until Anderlecht this season was against Spartak earlier in the 2012/13 Group Stage. Here’s hoping for another 5th December European win and to making Anderlecht only the second team to suffer home and away group defeats to Celtic in the Champions League era.
Thoughts and Predictions for tonight welcome…