No surprise if Celtic ‘go deep’ into the Europa League

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How do you measure the value of Celtic’s 3-0 Champions League victory over Anderlecht in Brussels on Wednesday night?

In purely monetary terms, it comes in at around £1.3 million of win bonus prize money from Uefa to add to the already healthy pot the Scottish 
champions guaranteed themselves simply by qualifying 
for the group stage of the 
tournament.

Brendan Rodgers praised the performance of Leigh Griffiths against Anderlecht.  Picture: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Brendan Rodgers praised the performance of Leigh Griffiths against Anderlecht. Picture: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

In assessing the enhanced status and standard of the team Celtic now put on the pitch under the guidance of Brendan Rodgers, it was a result which proved they are operating under a manager whose thirst for improvement and ever greater levels of achievement appears unquenchable.

These remain early days in a European campaign which still sees Celtic cast very much in the role of underdogs in a Champions League group from which Paris Saint-
Germain and Bayern Munich are expected to qualify comfortably for the last 16 of the competition.

But, while Rodgers steered clear of acclaiming the win at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium as potentially decisive in settling the anticipated scrap between Celtic and Anderlecht for third place in Group B, which brings the welcome consolation prize of progress to the last 32 of the Europa League, it would now be a major surprise if his squad did not extend their continental adventures into the second half of the season.

It would, of course, be premature for any of their supporters to start checking on flights and accommodation for the Europa League final in Lyon next May. Equally, it is not difficult to envisage Celtic going deep into a tournament which last season saw Anderlecht reach the quarter-finals.

For all of the limitations displayed by the Belgian champions on Wednesday in a performance which underlined why they have experienced such a poor start to this season, Celtic’s display was ultimately one which typified the confidence and composure which has become their trademark under Rodgers.

Reflecting on what was only his club’s second away win in the group stage of the Champions League – and a first ever clean sheet – the Northern Irishman admitted it was as satisfying as any result he has overseen since his appointment in the summer of 2016.

“Yes, it is,” he said. “And not because it was with relative ease, but with a real good professionalism, with players who look like they belong at Champions League level.

“More importantly, there was an actual game model that allows you to think you can at least play well at this level. Players were comfortable on the ball, players were making angles, offensively looking a threat. Tactically, they were outstanding; blocking lines of pass from the opposition, and really pressing the game.”

A key figure in that strategy was Leigh Griffiths whose all-round game as a central striker continues to improve impressively with Rodgers’ tutelage. His crucial breakthrough goal just before half-time was his tenth in Champions League football for Celtic but, more significantly, his first in the group stage. The 27-year-old is firmly establishing himself as a player capable of leading the line with distinction at the highest level for both club and country.

“It all starts from the pressure up front from Griff, who was outstanding in the game,” added Rodgers. “That gives me pleasure, that gives me 
confidence.”

Olivier Ntcham is another player regarded by Rodgers as vital to Celtic’s continued development and improvement. The French midfielder, the club’s signature summer signing at £4.5 million from Manchester City, recovered from a sluggish opening to the match in Brussels to eventually play an influential role with assists for two of the goals.

“He didn’t make a good start to the game, I have to say,” admitted Rodgers. “He couldn’t find his passing and that was one of the big reasons he was playing. Then he makes a pass that makes a difference. We had worked the ball really well from side to side, moved Anderlecht’s organisation and then he makes an absolutely sublime pass to get in behind them. It’s then a great cross from Kieran Tierney and Griff finishes for our first goal.

“Then Oli grew into it, he put his body on the line, got on the ball. You have to remember that he is still a young player at 21. He did really well.”

Celtic’s remarkable domestic dominance under Rodgers – they will look to make it 58 games unbeaten against Scottish opponents when they face Hibs at Parkhead tomorrow – leaves Europe as the only stage where the stock of both the manager and his team can rise in the eyes of those looking in from elsewhere.

“Yeah, I think people will look at this result from outside and give the team more credit,” agreed Rodgers.

“Listen, it is credit for the players, they deserve it. To be unbeaten in 57 games domestically is very tough to do, considering the number of games you play in Scotland where the opponent will always pick up the intensity of their game by 10-15 per cent against Celtic.

“The players have had to stand up to that whilst playing at a really high level consistently.

“But of course, you come into the Champions League and it’s a different level again.

“I think people recognise we have a good side that is developing well but when you go away to a club with a great history like Anderlecht, who got to the quarter-final of the Europa League last year, and play to that level we did, to be as convincing as that, then of course people recognise that and say ‘Actually, they are a very good team’.”



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