It’s only Matchday Three, but Wednesday’s clash with Atletico Madrid could already be make or break for Celtic’s European ambitions.
Despite performing well in large spells against both Feyenoord and Lazio, the Hoops find themselves propping up Group E on zero points as we approach the halfway point of the group stages.
So what will Brendan Rodgers’ side have learned from their opening two encounters?
Firstly they’ll have learned that you simply cannot switch off at any point at this level. Not even for a second.
This was highlighted at the death against Lazio as a late header from Pedro was enough to seal all three points for the Italians.
Despite taking the game to the Serie A side throughout the ninety minutes, the failure of Cameron Carter-Vickers to get the ball under control in the middle of the park resulted in that painful winner, leaving the players with nothing to show for their valiant efforts on the night.
Secondly – you must score when you’re on top. It’s as simple as that.
For all the stats we now see in the modern game the only one that really matters is the one that tells you the scoreline at the end of the game.
Again, reflecting on the contest with Lazio, Celtic put themselves in the driving side as Kyogo grabbed his first ever Champions League goal on the twelfth minute.
A one goal lead is never enough at this level however and though chances were at a premium against Maurizio Sarri’s men you felt a failure to add a second could prove fatal.
And so that was to be the case.
Thirdly – and most importantly as we head into the clash with Atletico – Celtic can compete at this level.
It’s important that the players believe this. Because we do, and so does the manager.
Despite the results on the board, this side under Rodger’s has shown at De Kuip and again at Celtic Park that we can go toe to toe with some of the best sides that this tournament has to offer.
Yes the points tally says otherwise, and yes the hard luck stories in Europe have to stop, but anyone who’s taken in our two games to date would concede that we’ve definitely got something to bring to the party.
The challenge that now awaits however is to piece together a performance that lasts the whole ninety minutes and beyond, and not one that only sees Celtic playing well in spells.
Then, and only then, may we start to turn a few heads in Europe.
With a renewed confidence coursing through the players following recent domestic displays there’s no better time than Wednesday night to turn in that complete performance we’ve all been waiting for.
If we do then maybe – just maybe – we can start making plans for European football beyond Christmas!
Tune in to The Countdown To Kick-Off now as we preview Wednesday’s all important Champions League tie.
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