Some would argue that, really, my first away trip was to Seville. But technically that’s a neutral venue!
There are many memories I have of my visit to Munich in September 2003. From the very moment the plane was descending into Munich airport and I looked out the window to see the Alps in the distance, I knew this was going to be a visually stunning trip. Munich itself is a beautiful city, right down to its oddly green looking water flowing through some of the waterways.
And then there was the Olympiastadion.
Built for the 1972 Olympic games, the stadium in Munich had an amazing canopy covering one side and part of each end. Not very practical if it rained, but it didn’t the day I was there so never mind!
Even the park where the stadium was situated was beautiful, and I distinctly remember walking past a football pitch painted onto a hill. Cue the jokes about Easter Road, which you would probably have to explain to younger generations these days.
The game itself was heartbreaking. For an hour we not only went toe to toe with a team who had won the Champions League just two years previous, but we even took the lead thanks to an Alan Thompson header from a Didier Agathe cross.
For those who were in Stuttgart earlier that year, it was probably a bit of deja vu. Indeed, that goal was only our third ever on German soil and Thompson had scored one of the other two in that game which also saw Chris Sutton score.
Yep, for a while, only Englishmen could score for Celtic in Germany. In fact, that only ended last season when Moussa Dembele scored from the penalty spot against Borussia Monchengladbach.
1-0 up, holding our own, you could almost start to believe that we were going to get a wonderful result away from home long before not being able to do that became a thing. This was only our fourth group stage match on the road after all.
But then the drunk guy in the kilt next to me finally woke up, and somehow that coincided with the game going the same way as his horribly soiled kilt.
First up, the apparently ineffective Sutton was moved from his place in midfield to the striking role as John Hartson was replaced by Liam Miller. That had the immediate effect of freeing up the Bayern midfield that Sutton had actually been keeping quiet, and suddenly Bayern were able to play fifteen yards further up the park and within distance of Celtic’s goal.
The equaliser came from that shift in the game. Stanislav Varga committed the cardinal sin for a defender by heading a clearance straight into a danger area just outside the box where Roy Makaay was waiting to volley it straight back and past Magnus Hedman.
But that mistake from Varga was nothing compared with what Hedman would do for the winner.
What should have been a simple catch from a cross from Makaay became a fluke goal as Hedman didn’t know what to do with Michael Ballack running in to meet the cross. Rather than catching it, Hedman hesitated and the ball bounced in front of him before continuing into the net. With just four minutes left, the game had been turned on its head.
With the phrase “alles ist gut” still ringing in my ears from the stadium announcer, we headed out of the stadium disappointed that we’d got nothing from the game. This turnaround would ultimately send Bayern through to the next round at our expense with nine points to our seven, though the defeat away to Lyon on the final day is usually remembered more as the biggest cause of that.
I still put it down to the defeat in Brussels to the ten men of Anderlecht though!
As we headed for the airport to head for home, we passed by the partially completed stadium that would later become the Allianz Arena – the stadium where Celtic will face Bayern Munich once again tonight.
Most of the focus at Bayern recently has been on the manager. Following their 3-0 defeat away to Paris Saint-Germain on match day two, Carlo Ancelotti was relieved of his duties and it was later announced that Jupp Heynckes would take charge for what is his fourth spell at the club.
He was first manager there from 1987 to 1991, then again temporarily in 2009 before taking full time charge once again in 2011. When he vacated the manager’s seat again in 2013, he left having won the big treble of league, cup and European Cup – one of only seven teams to have done that, with Celtic being the first of course!
So if anyone is capable of getting this Bayern Munich team back on track, it’s Jupp Heynckes.
After all, there’s one or two star players at Bayern currently. Polish striker Robert Lewandowski scores goals for fun and was once again the top scorer in World Cup qualifying with 16 goals across ten games. He’s easily Bayern’s top goalscorer currently with twelve goals already.
Manuel Neuer, the sweeper keeper as he’s often known, is out injured leaving Sven Ulreich in goal and Thomas Müller with the captain’s armband. That’s a midfielder that was top scorer for his country as they won the World Cup three years ago.
He wasn’t top scorer at that World Cup though. That award went to Colombia’s James Rodriguez, a player that happens to be on loan at Bayern Munich from Real Madrid this season.
Then there’s Arjen Robben, a man so one-footed you always know he’s going to cut in and shoot and yet the players who can stop him doing that are few and far between. He’s joint second top scorer with Mats Hummels on two.
Throw in other big names like the currently injured Frank Ribery, Felix Götze, David Alaba, Joshua Kimmich and Arturo Vidal and I’ve probably still missed a few that are more than capable of seeing off any opposition.
There’s no doubt that Bayern have a squad to match any in Europe, never mind Celtic. They might well be looking at second place in this group, but it’s still a massive gap between them and us.
It’s therefore difficult to see how Celtic get anything from this game, but maybe that helps. There’s no pressure on us to get anything, assuming Anderlecht don’t get anything at home to PSG. That 3-0 win in Brussels has given us an excellent position to clinch the third place Europa League parachute.
But let’s dream. If you want to get second place in this group, chances are PSG are going to run away with it. That means it’s now down to the double header between us and Bayern to decide who goes through to the last sixteen with them. A draw in the Allianz Arena tonight would set us up nicely for the return at Celtic Park at the end of the month.
Stopping Lewandowski would certainly be a start, given he has almost half of all of Bayern’s goals so far this season. Do that and take advantage of their missing first choice goalkeeper and maybe you’re in with a chance of getting something.
Of course, then we come back to reality with the news that Jozo Simunovic is missing. Last time he was missing for a European game we shipped four goals in Astana. Dedryck Boyata wasn’t available that night though, so we do have him to choose from, but after that what do we do? Move Lustig in and play Cristian Gamboa? He certainly got a good write up on Saturday. Or do we put Bitton back into the centre of defence again?
Fortunately things look better further forward with Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong both fit and ready to play. Whether they do remains to be seen, with a large selection of midfielders to choose from as always. Even right up front we have Moussa Dembele slowly getting back to match sharpness to compete with Leigh Griffiths, to say nothing of Odsonne Edouard.
If there’s no pressure on us and we’re expected to lose, maybe that will give us a little bit more freedom to get a positive result. After all, Wolfsburg have already earned a draw in Munich this season, and they’re sitting fourteenth in the Bundesliga at the moment.
Mind you, Freiburg are only a point behind them and were thumped 5-0 at the weekend, so it’s possible the Heynckes effect has already working wonders.
Whatever the result, it’s the performance that we all want to see work out well. We let ourselves down against PSG and were rightly thumped as a consequence. It took a while to get going in Brussels, but once we did it could arguably have been an even bigger win. This time we’ll need to be right on our game from the start or risk another heavy and demoralising defeat on the big stage.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)