Champions League Third Qualifying Round, Second Leg
Qarabag 0 Celtic 0
Celtic drew with Qarabag in Azerbaijan to progress to the Champions League Play-Off Round, after winning by the single goal at Paradise last week, with the draw for the next round taking place on Friday morning.
Much was made of the state of the Qarabag pitch pre-match, with claims that 30% of it had been scorched by the hot weather, much to the gusto of many in the Scottish Press, desperate for Celtic not to qualify for the Champions League group stages.
The groundsmen, Celtic were assured prior to the match, worked over time to get it in a ready condidtion, but it still appeared turgid and very bobbly on match night.
Ronny Deila and John Collins both commented that they would adjust their starting eleven in light of the pitch conditions, as it wasn’t conducive to Celtic’s normal free flowing game, but they were also looking to keep another clean sheet and try and snatch the crucial away goal to ensure progression.
Celtic came out and went into The Huddle in the plus 30 degree heat, looking to get through this tricky tie against a team who, like Celtic, played a high possession game, and progress to the Champions League play-off stage.
The game kicked off and Celtic kept it tight, compact and comfortable in possession, looking to limit Qarabag to half chances while hoping to get up the park to attack their opponents goal.
Both Lustig and Bitton played through balls in the opening stages to Gary Mackay-Steven but they both chances were flagged for offside.
Qarabag had their first chance after winning a corner on the 8th minute but the ref Stromberggson called for a handball in the box and a free kick to Celtic.
They won a second corner after Izzy, under pressure, put the ball out on the 15th minute. The corner came in and fell to Sadiqov, who shot wide.
Around the 20th minute, Stuart Armstrong won the ball and ran on Qarabag’s goal.
He skinned two defenders to get into the box & cut the ball back but the Qarabag defence cleared the danger.
Silva then sent a shot over the bar for Qarabag.
Almeida, on the 25th minute, fired a powerful 20 yarder at the Celtic goal. Craig Gordon, after a shaky save earlier, pulled off an excellent counter to the chance, palming the ball to his right and getting the ball to safety.
The game then stopped for the first water break on the 30th minute.
Celtic won their only corner of the match on the 40th minute, but it went over with Qarabag clearing.
Celtic were struggling to win any fouls up front from the ref to get them up the park, which frustrated Stefan Johansen no end, as he kept a constant dialogue with the ref, venting his frustrations.
Nir Bitton, on the stroke of half time, spotted Sehic off his line and tried a 40 yard shot, but the keeper recovered, got back and saved it.
The first half then finished and the team went in for the half time oranges and some more water, to get re-organised for the second half.
Qarabag 0 Celtic 0
Celtic came back out, looking to be as compact as the first-half, while looking for that important away goal.
Qarabag attacked immediately and Huseynov shot over the bar on the 47th minute, while Celtic finally won a free kick a minute later through Ciftci, in Qarabags half.
Sadygov then fired at Celtic’s goal on the 52nd minute, but it also sailed over the bar.
Celtic started to get more into the game and found more openings further up the pitch, taking the pressure of the back four and both Bitton and Broony.
Virgil ran up the park on the 62nd minute, but got dispossessed, with Stefan Johansen drawing a foul to halt the resulting Qarabag attack and earned a booking.
Qarabag had another chance through El Jadeyaoui on the 65th minute, but the defence blocked his shot to safety.
Ronny Deila then sent on Leigh Griffiths for the tiring Ciftci up front on the 67th minute, as he looked for more pace and movement up front to exploit the Qarabag defence and try and snatch the away goal.
Griffiths got up the park and got in their back fours faces while both Bitton and Broony had shots blocked.
Kris Commons then replaced GMS on the 78th minute.
Soon after Celtic had their best chance on the night.
Armstrong on the left, excellently picked out Johansen at the right of the Qarabag box.
Stefan took a touch and shot past Sehic, but his chance went agonizingly just wide left of Sehic’s post.
James Forrest then replaced Armstrong on the 83rd minute and he immediately brought more pace up front to attack the tiring Qarabag defence.
Aided by Commons, James then burst on goal, bet three players but instead of shooting at goal, he cut the ball back for either Griffiths or Commons, but the ball was cleared by the Qarabag defence and sent up the park.
Qarabag then tried to camp in the Celtic penalty area in the last five minutes of injury time, but Celtic were organised and limited then to half chances, such as a block by Almedia.
They got the ball out to the left corner flag through Izzy and Commons, then up the park to take the pressure off.
The final whistle then blew much to the relief of Deila, the team, and the Celtic Support.
Job Done on the night as Celtic progress to the Champions League play off draw, which will take place at 11am on Friday.
Qarabag 0 Celtic 0
LostBhoys Man of The Match Award goes to Nir Bitton
From the Ross County Season Opener, Ronny fielded largely, his strongest side.
Emilo Izaguirre came in for Kieran Tierney at left back, Mikael Lustig replaced Efe Ambrose, Nir Bitton came in for James Forrest and Leigh Griffiths dropped to the bench for Nadir Ciftci, with Ronny preferring Ciftci due to the state of the pitch and the defensive game Celtic would need to play in the plus 30 degree temperature.
Tactics: Ronny went with the 4-2-3-1 with the team compact and looking to keep possession, while passing intelligently across the back-line and midfield to help keep possession and limit Qarabag to half chances.
The game plan worked well, with some great individual defensive performances on the night from Boyata, Lustig, Izzy, Bitton and Broony.
Celtic limited Qarabag to mostly half chances throughout the match while not getting any love from the referee who refused to award Celtic any fouls further up the pitch, which would have taken the pressure off the defence and allowed Celtic to attack from Set Pieces.
In the second half the game opened up a bit with Johansen spurning a golden chance to get the away goal and also Forrest coming close.
It was a case of get in there, get the job done and get out.
Deila will be happy with the gritty result, a year to the day after his team on the night downed tools against Warsaw and got into the Champions League Play Off after an administrative error.
With his starting eleven now bedded in and his own signings made, this feels like a team once again on the up, who have earned their right to a play off place and will hopefully qualify out right in the next two legs.
GORDON – Bit of a shaky moment in the 14th minute, but recovered well to pull off an excellent point blank save and commanded his goal line well. Wasn’t that troubled during the game as the defence in front of him performed to their peak and limited Qarabag to half chances.
IZZY – Great defensive shift at left back, gave as good as he got and cleared the ball well at any signs of danger.
VIRGIL – Good game beside Boyata and commanded the back line well, misjudged a run up the park, which is better off not attempted in these games.
BOYATA – Didn’t put a foot wrong all night. Was excellent and robbed the Qarabag forwards time and again. Positioning was also excellent and looked like he’d been playing for Celtic for years.
LUSTIG – Never let any Qarabag player get past him and was comfortable the whole game.
BITTON – Dictated the play in midfield and won the ball time and again. Excellently timed challenges to snuff out Qarabag as they tried to get going and provided and excellent shield to the back four.
BROONY – Marshalled the midfield well beside Bitton. The Captain kept us organised in the first half and also got the team up the park to attack in the second half, when the defence needed a breather.
Characteristically got in the faces of some Qarabag players, who said they would thrash Celtic, to shove the words down their throat, after the final whistle.
ARMSTRONG – Excellent shift on the left and also unlucky with a chance in the first half. Passed well and played in Johansen for his excellent chance. Subbed as he tired.
GMS – Played along the front line at the start of the game looking to link up with Ciftci, but struggled to get past the Qarabag defence. Due to the nature of the game, was a bit in and out.
Replaced by Commons as he tired late on.
JOHANSEN – Went down too easy in the first half, moaning at the ref which created some Qarabag chances.
Needs to play to the whistle more at this level as he could’ve created more first half attacks.
Took a good booking in the second half and was unlucky with his chance in the second half. These are the chances he said pre match he will start taking. Needs to start scoring the important goals soon as they could be the difference between CL Qualification or Europa League.
CIFTCI – Stuck to his task of holding the ball up and running the channels. Understandably, the way the game was going, he never really got a sight of goal, but linked up when he could with Armstrong, Johansen and GMS. Subbed for Griffiths as he tired.
GRIFFITHS (For Ciftci 67) – Was positive when he came on and tried to unsettle Sehic, but didn’t get much service as chances were at a premium.
COMMONS (For GMS 79) – Tried to hold the ball up in the last ten minutes to relive the defence and see the game out.
FORREST (For Armstrong 84) – Used his pace well against a tiring Qarabag side, but should have registered at least as shot on goal after his excellent run in the last five minutes.
Subs Not Used: Bailly, Efe, Janko, Rogic
ON TARGET: 1
FOULS WON: 9
FOULS CONCEDED: 16
BOOKINGS: Johansen, Izzy
Stats supplied by www.bbc.co.uk
Mark (Twitter @sparco1979)