No Jozo Simunovic, no Erik Sviatchenko, no Patrick Roberts. Ahh.
The first two has been the story of our season so far. Brendan Rodgers must be as frustrated as the rest of us at not being able to select a settled and consistent central pairing in defence. No doubt we’ll yet again have someone playing out of position along side Dedryck Boyata. Whether that’s Nir Bitton or Mikael Lustig will probably be determined by which of our right backs is going to be subjected to the speed of Kingsley Coman that did so much damage in Germany a couple of weeks ago.
Roberts going off at the weekend was the latest blow to our chances. When you’re playing at the highest level, you want your highest level players available and there’s no doubt that Roberts showed last season what he could do – especially against his parent club. Arguably he hasn’t managed that this season yet, and indeed James Forrest looked more of a threat when he came on in the Allianz Arena, but we all know what Paddy is capable of doing on his day. I’d certainly rather have him available than not tonight.
After all, it was bad enough when he went off on Saturday. Until that point he looked the most likely to create something against Kilmarnock. Indeed, Celtic’s attacking prowess never quite hit the same level in that game after he went off, despite the Leigh Griffiths goal coming after his substitution.
On the plus side though, Moussa Dembele finally looks fit and ready again. Two goals against Hibernian to send us through to the League Cup final were quickly followed by two goals and an assist in Aberdeen. If anyone can get goals against Bayern tonight, it’s him.
The noises coming from Celtic in the lead up to this game are that we have nothing to lose, and that’s how I would read our situation as well. Having already won 3-0, we’d need a mammoth home win to turn the head to head in our favour. With Paris Saint-Germain favourites to win all six games in this group, and Anderlecht favourite to pick up zero points, that head to head comparison is what would decide second place and a last sixteen berth.
Or to put it another way, Bayern are in the same position for taking second spot ahead of us as we are for taking third spot ahead of Anderlecht. The simple fact is, most neutrals would probably agree that this group is all but done already.
But football isn’t that simplistic. PSG might not win all six games. Anderlecht might yet pick up points. As might we.
If we’re lucky, Anderlecht will lose to PSG tonight and then against Bayern on match day five. If that happens, even a narrow defeat in our final game would see us through – and that’s assuming we haven’t picked anything up ourselves. If we can do that, we’ll clinch third with a game to spare.
So, if we’re to pick up anything from our two games prior to the showdown with Anderlecht, what game do you think it’s more likely to occur? Away in Paris, or at home against Bayern?
Clearly, tonight’s game is our best chance at bonus points in our aim for third spot and Europe after Christmas in the Europa League. A weakened Bayern, home advantage, of course it’s this one.
But can we realistically get anything from this game? Well if we are to stand a chance, we’ll absolutely need to play better than we have in any of our three group stage games so far. Losing to PSG and Bayern hasn’t hurt half as much as the feeling that we just didn’t do ourselves justice on either occasion. If we’re going to lose to good teams, we should at least be able to claim that we made them work for it.
We’ve shown signs of that, in the second half against PSG and after the substitutions in Munich, but on both occasions it was far too late. Even against Anderlecht we didn’t play as well as we know we can until after the opening goal was scored. That seemed to kick us on to a better second half. But even then, maybe if we’d played just a little better and taken some great chances it could have been an even bigger win than it was!
We need to start this game as we started the home game against Manchester City last season. On that night everything clicked, and although we were pegged back three times, City still had to earn their draw. We came away from that game buzzing, and that’s a feeling I hope we all have after tonight’s game too.
A draw probably suits Bayern tonight, but I doubt they’ll play for it as they did back in 2003.
That night, Oliver Kahn was the hero as he kept Celtic at bay and earned his side a 0-0 draw. They became the first team to take anything from Celtic Park in the group stages that night, thanks mainly to a rear guard action setup. Indeed, the most troubled Celtic’s goal was that night was when Magnus Hedman cannoned a clearance off Stanislav Varga, but fortunately it spun away from goal and the two culprits from the away match were spared more embarrassment.
All I ask tonight is that Celtic don’t look starstruck and almost beaten from kick off as they have in recent matches against big named opposition. We’re in this competition because we’ve earned the right to be there. On our day we’ve given more than a few bloody noses, and we’re capable of doing so again. If we go down to another defeat tonight, we should at least make sure we come away thinking we couldn’t have done any better.
There’s nothing quite as frustrating as regret over missed opportunities.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)