Ange Postecoglou faces his first big test as Celtic manager as his side face Danish side FC Midtjylland in the second qualifying round of the Champions League second leg.
The Hoops are still smarting after a 6-2 friendly defeat against West Ham United. However, they will take positives from their first leg showing against the Danish side.
Ange Postecoglou Danish Champions League Examination
Celtic Looking to Build on First Leg Positives
There has been a lot of negativity around Celtic Park over the last few months. Last season’s failure to win the coveted ten in a row and the failure to win a trophy for the first time since 2010 have contributed to that.
Also, the long-winded and ultimately failed pursuit of number one managerial target Eddie Howe has added to the supporters growing frustrations with the Celtic board.
New manager Ange Postecoglou may have been a left-field appointment but the Australian has been welcomed warmly by the Hoops support. There are signs that he is starting to stamp his style on this Celtic side. In the first leg against Midtjylland, Celtic pressed their opponents and when they lost possession immediately tried to win it back.
When Celtic had the ball, they tried to get it forward as quickly as possible. One of the criticisms last season was that Celtic’s build-up play was too slow and featured too many sideways passes. The early signs are that won’t be tolerated by Postecoglou. Fast-paced, attractive, attacking football is one way to win over the Hoops support.
Another feature of Postecoglou’s tactics is the new role for left-back Greg Taylor. When Celtic play out from the back, the Scottish international has been deployed to midfield. This is to create space for Celtic’s attacking players against teams defending in a low block.
It is a tactic that Pep Guardiola utilised when managing Bayern Munich. He deployed Joshua Kimmich in the midfield from right-back when playing out from the back. Of course, Taylor is no Kimmich and this new role is a work in progress. However, it will be interesting to see Postecoglou use this tactic over the course of the season.
If Celtic are to progress further in the Champions League, they need goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas to finally start to justify his £5 million transfer fee. The Greek international made a big error in the first leg. He also looked very unconvincing in the 6-2 friendly defeat against West Ham. His positioning for Michail Antonio’s second goal was awful.
Celtic have been linked for a move for Fraser Forster. The English goalkeeper has had great spells at Celtic and is a fantastic shot-stopper. He would be an immediate upgrade on Barkas but considering Celtic spent £5 million for the Greek keeper they may want to keep faith with him.
Barkas is a good keeper, you don’t become a Greek international and play for one of the biggest clubs in Greece in AEK Athens if you are not. However, it is time for him to show it, which he hasn’t done since moving to Glasgow.
Celtic look set to line up with an 18-year-old and 21-year-old in Dane Murray and Stephen Welsh in defence. With new signing Carl Starfelt ineligible, Christopher Jullien out injured and Nir Bitton suspended, to say that options are limited would be an understatement.
To be fair to Murray and Welsh, both did well against Midtjylland. Murray in particular looked composed and impressed after coming on following Bitton’s red card.
Against West Ham, though, both Murray and Welsh showed their inexperience with Hammers striker Antonio brutally bullying Murray. That experience shows how much he has to develop if he wants to compete at the top level.
Obviously, Midtjylland are not at the same level as West Ham. Ange Postecoglou will be hoping he can produce the same performance that he did in the first leg.
Celtic’s likely defence will have an average age of just 21. They desperately need more experience and in particular a first-choice right-back. Anthony Ralston didn’t do anything wrong in the first leg but it is an area that needs strengthening very quickly.
Right backs Brandon Soppy and Aurelio Buta have been linked to a move to the Hoops. Postecoglou will be hoping to get through this tie and have a first-choice right-back in place for the rest of their Champions League campaign.
Replicate First Leg Performance
If Celtic match their performance in the first leg, they should have enough to see off Midtjylland. Celtic dominated the first leg and should be going to Denmark with a lead.
They have enough quality going forward to trouble the Danish side but have to make sure they negate any defensive mistakes. A win would give Ange Postecoglou some much-needed breathing space.