Paris Saint-Germain visit Celtic Park tonight for the first of our six Champions League group stage matches, and you’ve probably already read plenty of articles harking back to the Cup Winners Cup tie in 1995.
Many will tell you that the PSG team that we faced in that tie were one of the best teams to visit Celtic Park in “recent” years. Well, it’s 22 years ago now, so the concept of “recent” is pretty relative, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it was all that long ago for some of us!
The 1990s weren’t good times as Celtic fans, but by 1995 we were starting to emerge from our dark period. We’d won the Scottish Cup, our first major trophy is six years, to earn our place in the following season’s Cup Winners’ Cup, and we’d already beaten Dinamo Batumi in the first round to earn the second round draw against PSG.
Despite those dark days, it’s not like we didn’t see good teams at Celtic Park. We hadn’t qualified for Europe the previous season, the last season we didn’t play in Europe, but prior to that we’d seen the likes of Cologne, Borussia Dortmund and Sporting Lisbon face Celtic. If anything, getting PSG was just yet more bad luck in the draw!
Youri Djorkaeff’s goal from the first leg was all that separated the teams ahead of the tie, but two first half away goals from Patrice Loko effectively ended the tie, before Pascal Nouma finished the scoring. It was the first time we had lost a home tie by three goals, and indeed that’s still our record home defeat in Europe. It’s since been matched by both AC Milan and Juventus in 2013, but PSG did it first.
To further back up the claim of just how good that PSG side were, after convincingly beating Celtic they went on to beat Parma in the quarter final, Deportivo La Coruna in the semi final, and Rapid Vienna in the final to win the trophy. I don’t know about anyone else, but I never feel quite so bad if you lose to the eventual winner of a tournament. Especially if they were of the quality of that PSG side.
Of course, some would suggest that this current PSG side are of even higher quality given the amount of talent they’ve brought in thanks to their seemingly endless supply of money. So endless, in fact, that UEFA will investigate them as part of the Financial Fair Play rules. They’ll probably get fined out of that endless supply of money, or possibly have their squad restricted for next season, so don’t get too excited that this might somehow benefit us!
The focus for many has been on PSG’s attack, so what can we do to counteract that? Well, not be as bad as last season would be a start!
That may sound harsh, but we had the second worst defensive record in the Champions League group stages last season. Only Legia Warsaw conceded more, and by that I mean a lot more. We conceded 16 goals, they conceded 24. When you consider that our figure is badly skewed by the Barcelona game, that’s awful for them. Nevertheless, we did concede in all six matches. Nine to Barcelona, four to Manchester City, and three to Borussia Monchengladbach.
Although we got through five of our six qualifying matches this season without conceding, you can’t help but think back to the Rosenborg home match and think we were lucky not to concede that night – it was more down to them missing great chances than anything else, especially in the second half.
I’d love to say there were “mitigating circumstances” as we barely had a first choice defence the entire time, but that’s not much help now as it seems unlikely that we’ll have that for this game either. Jozo Simunovic will play, but who plays along side him?
Kristoffer Ajer was part of the team that did well against Rosenborg but ultimately did give up those golden chances. Nir Bitton played the second leg after Erik Sviatchenko went off, and he was solid enough, but we know he’s had his moments in other games. Combine those two and you get the shambles of the away game in Astana where we shipped four and could have conceded even more.
It might be one of those two partnering Simunovic, because the other option is to push Mikael Lustig inside and play either Cristian Gamboa – who hasn’t been seen this season due to yet another injury at the back – or Anthony Ralston who’s still pretty raw. He’s an exciting talent but it might be too soon for him. Kieran Tierney inside is another option, but then that only leaves us with Calvin Miller at left back.
I understand not signing a defender in the transfer window. If you have faith in Dedryck Boyata and Sviatchenko, plus Ajer and Bitton as backup with two full backs able to fill in there too, then you don’t need any more in the squad unless they’re of actual quality that are likely to improve the first eleven. It sounds like we didn’t get that, and so didn’t sign anyone.
Fair enough, but that doesn’t help us tonight! It might well be fine in subsequent matches, but tonight those two natural defenders are out and all the others are makeshift options.
Against Neymar Jnr, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe. They’d be a mammoth task to keep out even if we had our first choices available!
Cards on the table, I cannot stand Neymar. Ever since he took a dive against Scotland in a friendly at the Emirates six years ago, he’s had his card marked. Since that day we’ve seen him face Celtic a few times, including that playacting that got Scott Brown sent off for a nothing challenge at Celtic Park four years ago among other things.
That’s not to say I don’t recognise that he’s a class act when he puts his mind to it, but he’s as likely to throw himself to the ground as he is to actually score a world class goal.
At the other end of the scale, Mbappe is a frighteningly good talent. At just 18 years old, he was already a shining light in the Monaco side that won the French league last season. He also helped knock Manchester City out of the Champions League, and although he’s only on loan at PSG he’ll have earned the expected big money move at the end of it. Most recently, he came off the bench in a game where France were already vastly outclassing Dick Advocaat’s Netherlands, and proceeded to run the show – scoring the fourth goal in the process.
He couldn’t help France beat Luxembourg a few days later though.
And then there’s Edinson Cavani. The old head at PSG, he’s been there since 2013 and at 30 years old he’s easily the oldest of the front three, five years Neymar’s senior. French player of the year last season, he helped PSG win the French Cup against Monaco at the end of last season, and was part of the PSG team that really should have knocked Barcelona out of the Champions League last season and would have if not for that remarkable turnaround. He even got the away goal that should have been enough but wasn’t.
Which begs the question – how good is the PSG defence? Well they added Yuri Berchiche from Real Sociedad for “just” 16 million Euros, but even the other name they’ve brought in is probably more famous for getting forward than his ability as a defender. Former Barcelona attacking full back, Dani Alves.
Yep, it’s as if the Champions League draw remembered we always get paired with Barcelona and tried to correct that at some level. Unfortunately that means we’re being reunited with two of the biggest playacting cheats that the Catalans have had in recent seasons.
There’s a line of thinking that says tonight’s game could be a case of two attacking teams trying to outscore each other – similar to the Manchester City game last season. For all PSG are frighteningly good going forward, they do leave space at the back quite a bit. Our strengths are all further up the park, and although Moussa Dembele won’t make it we’ll still have a returning Leigh Griffiths and debut goal scorer Osdonne Edouard.
And just like Patrick Roberts last season, how much would Edouard like to score against his parent club?
In fact, throw in Roberts as well as Scott Sinclair, James Forrest, Stuart Armstrong, Callum McGregor and Tom Rogic and we have our own list of players who could all turn up on the scoresheet. That’s without mentioning Scott Brown and Olivier Ntcham who can get a goal or two themselves too. Obviously they won’t all play, but the majority of them will feature somewhere.
Let’s not kid ourselves though, this could be another depressing night for Celtic in Europe tonight if PSG are on fire. They could beat their own record. Sadly that’s what seemingly endless money can buy you. But this is football and this is Celtic. If we’re on fire as well, this could be one of the great European nights. And if we’re on fire and they’re not… well, that’s when the truly great results happen.
Celtic 4, Juventus 3. Celtic 1, Manchester United 0. Celtic 2, AC Milan 1. Celtic 2, Barcelona 1.
We’ve beaten some terrific teams at Celtic Park in the past. Adding PSG to that list tonight would be amazing – and would get our group stage campaign off to an amazing start.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)