The problem with writing (and of course reading) blogs is separating fact from opinion. My blogs are mostly opinion based (with relevant facts added on) and no doubt differ from loads of other Celtic fans. Reading through Twitter after the game I seem to be in a minority who thought we were poor last night and missed a great opportunity to pick up a home win.
I felt that 3 main factors contributed to our lack of penetration going forward.
Firstly, an injury list that you cannot account for. If you had said 4 weeks previously that we would go into our first CL game without Kayal, Ledley, Samaras, Hooper and Stokes (plus Ki who was sold) then the alarm bells would have been quite rightly ringing. Ledley, Hooper and Samaras in particular are key to our forward momentum in European fixtures.
Secondly, our decision to prioritise the CL over the SPL this season (one I fully endorse) has seen us fail to find a genuine rhythm in games this season, other than the excellent display against Inverness. You cannot just pick and choose when you want to play and this was evident all too often last night.
Thirdly, and most frustratingly for me was our decision to conclude our transfer business so late. Now most of us are in agreement that we no longer look to buy ‘blue-chip’ players and there was some sense in waiting until our European fate was known before buying players. However, I really believe that we could have signed at least a couple of our targets earlier, given the finances involved and the profile of these players.
By waiting so late we saw Ambrose only getting his work permit approval this week and effectively being ruled out of this game. Also, the late signings coming right at the start of an International break prevented the new players from being properly integrated into the team and squad. For me, this was evident in the display of Miku who I thought was very ineffective last night, unsurprisingly.
Once the pre-match injury news was known, we waited to see where Mulgrew would be deployed in the team which would influence the last few selections. In the end, with Hooper carrying a knock then the team basically picked itself, the only question being around Miku or Tony Watt and 4-4-2 against 4-1-4-1.
Benfica were without a number of key players through transfers out, injuries and suspensions. Therefore, the decision to leave out Cardoza from the start was incredible although very welcome for Celtic.
The atmosphere at the game was excellent as always, no doubt the best stadium to be at in Europe on these CL occasions. Celtic settled pretty quickly and were looking at ways to bring Commons into the game as he was always our best bet for unlocking the Benfica defence.
When Celtic play a 4-4-2, they rely on a couple of key players to influence the game. Commons we have already mentioned, who will drift inside and influence the play centrally. This gives Izzaguire the freedom of the left flank and puts a big emphasis on Forrest to play a traditional wingers role on the right hand side.
Sadly last night, both players had poor games again. Forrest has yet to get started this season and probably needs some time on the bench to stoke the passion back in him again. However, for me Izzaguire cannot continue to be selected in the team. He has lost all his drive and determination going forward and he is fast turning into a bomb scare when in possession.
He crucially sold possession yet again last night and placed Wanyama in a no win situation which forced him to make a foul and pick up a booking. This left our midfield lynchpin on a yellow card for 70 minutes in a game that he was going to have to fight for every ball. You simply cannot afford to take those risks at the highest level and I don’t see a single positive thing that Izzaguire is providing to the team just now.
Defensively, we all had concerns about Wilson and Lustig but I thought both were excellent last night, particularly Wilson who is really starting to win over the fans. They never looked under any huge pressure and were superbly backed up by Matthews and Forster. Moving forward, I would switch Matthews to the left, Lustig to right back and bring Ambrose into the middle and give this back four a run of games to find some cohesion.
Mulgrew, having been moved into the left side of midfield was easily our best player in the first half. He has such a bright football brain and is always looking to exploit situations in an attacking sense. He dipped a bit in the second half, mainly due to moving into to left back, his weakest position in my opinion.
In the centre of the park, we saw a fairly slow start from Brown and Wanyama but in the second half they were both excellent, with Brown in particular having one of his finest 45 minutes in the hoops. If only we had more of an attacking threat going forward to compliment the solid platform they were providing to the team.
Commons tried all night to provide the spark but the number 10 is such a difficult role to play at this level and he probably lacks the turn of speed to really make a difference. I felt that he became more effective when moved out wide in the second half but his desire and application all night was first class.
As stated earlier, Miku was fairly anonymous for me. Playing as practically a lone striker, he won few headers, made very few runs and rarely linked up the play. There was no real improvement when Hooper joined him late on and I was very surprised that Tony Watt was not given at least 10 minutes to make an impact.
One strange tactical move that I noticed last night was to leave Kelvin Wilson back at every single corner, even when Benfica had all 11 players back in or around their box. At first I thought this was due to a knock but it was for every single attacking corner, even the one in the last minute. (Apologies to my good pal @craigm73 for me pointing out the Wilson thing to him at least 100 times during the game).
All in all a point isn’t a disaster, but if we have any hopes of finishing 2nd then we need to take at least 7 points at home. Also, given the absentees from the Benfica team, plus their relaxed approach to the game then I really believe this is an opportunity lost and one we will regret later in the season.
BrummieBhoy Internet Bampot MOM award for Benfica game goes to Scott Brown
I would like to see us pick this team for the game on Saturday against Dundee and try and build some cohesion within the team;
Forster; Lustig, Ambrose, Wilson, Matthews; Commons, Brown, Wanyama, Mulgrew; Miku & Hooper.
Hopefully, we can then use Tuesday’s game against Raith to give some game time to the likes of Izzy, Rogne, Ledley, Kayal, Samaras, McCourt, Watt, Lassad, McGeoch, Twardzik and Ibrahim if they are all fit for selection.
Liam (twitter @BrummieBhoy)