After being unbeaten in September 2013, which included an away win over Zenit St. Petersburg, October 2013 showed me just how far the team has come and, how much more it needs to grow to be a truly elite European team.
Champions League, Group H
Celtic Vs Chelsea
Playing the team currently ranked 4th in Europe, even at home, was going to be tough. That said, it is the home matches which are likely to determine whether or not Celtic get out of this group at all, never mind into the Champions League Last 16.
For that reason, I set the team up to control the match, my thoughts being that we need to try and score ourselves, more so than prevent Chelsea from doing so.
And with the help of some incredible individual peformances from Rogne, Mulgrew, Brown and Ledley we did just that. A Scott Brown goal opened the scoring in the first half while Thomas Rogne headed in a Charlie Mulgrew corner kick to score the 2nd just after half time.
Although the possession statistic shows the match in Chelsea’s favour, Celtic created far more chances, though I know this was partially due to our aggressive style, which meant we committed a lot of fouls too.
But a win is a win, and beating the top seeds in the group at home left us top of the group after two games with Juventus beating Zenit in Turin!
Juventus Vs Celtic
Juventus presented a real challenge to my Celtic side. On one hand, with key players such as Buffon, Matri and Vucinic injured it looked like we might have an advantage. In fact, the pre-game analysis has us favourites! But looking deeper, at Juventus tactical analysis, showed that they were dangerous against my favoured European formation – 41221.
It was made all the more difficult by their unusual starting formation (for the modern day that is) of a flat 352.
Although I started with a 451 (of 41221) Counter, I swiftly moved from Counter to Standard to Control strategy as Juventus piled on the pressure. I also tried to exploit their lack of numbers out wide but was under so much pressure I could never take advantage.
We were well and truly battered. Some miserable performances from Mulgrew and Izaguirre contributed. But I take a lot of the blame upon myself. I was out of ideas of how to cope with Juventus 352 formation and relentless pressing.
So we’re 2nd in Group H after 3 matches and I’m very happy with that – especially since we’ve only played at home once. The other results from this group are below.
It is interesting to look at our co-efficient at this point.
The green arrow shows that our five-year-rolling-co-efficient will increase from 38.598 this season (13/14) to 40.048 next season (14/15). That’s because we’re already doing better than our 08/09 total.
That’s great news because it only helps Celtic improve their European standing, albeit by a small amount. Maybe, if we continue to do well, we can get beat last seasons total of 17.920.
It’s the European performance which gives me the title of this article. On one hand, we beat the top seeded team in our group a comfortable 2-0. Not only that, but we went into the game with the aim to control it. That’s quite a distance for this Celtic side to have come, even though it started with real-life manager Neil Lennon’s rebuilding of the squad. On the other hand, we’ve a long way to go before we can visit the homes of Europe’s biggest clubs and come out with points. Both myself and the players will need to grow to do that.
This month I’ve rotated the squad a lot. Firstly to give the first team players a rest before big European games (e.g. against St. Mirren) but also to try and give the young players in the squad a chance to grow.
That said, there’s no excuse for the draws against Kilmarnock and Aberdeen but it was the senior players who under-performed in these games.
Regardless we’re still unbeaten and still top of the table, with a lead of 6 points, down from 8 last month.
Scottish League Cup
As we have a Champions League match the following midweek of this Scottish League Cup Quarter Final against Hearts, I played a strong side.
The quality shone through, though Hearts had more than enough chances to score. We’ll play Motherwell in the semi-final next year.
The Reserves are still top of the Reserve (U20s) league by 2 points with a game in hand. Again, the squad is made up of mostly U19 players with a few seniors to gain match fitness so it shows we’re in a good position for future seasons.
The U19s however are out of the Next Gen Series despite having two games left to play. Furthermore they are out of the U19s Cup too which is disappointing. My only thoughts about this are that since effectively the U19s are playing both their cup and the reserve league games that the schedule is too much. That said, a change of U19s manager might be in order.
In Europe the players are still doing very well in spite of the Juventus result. Mulgrew and Samaras, with ratings over 7.75 are the best performers though I am slightly concerned that Paulo Assuncao hasn’t reached over 7.00.
Overall Hooper and Samaras are proving to be a deadly combination, both attaining ratings over 7.80 and are also my top goalscorers. At the other end, Jacob Barrett Laursen could be doing a little better, especially if he wants a permanent deal.
It’s no surprise to see us make a loss last month, but at only £1.3m I’m reasonably happy. Tax (£1.3m), Wages (£1.2m) and Match Day Expenses (£0.7m) were our largest expenses but Gate Receipts (£2.5m), Prize Money (£0.9m) and Match Day Income (£0.5m) helped curtail the loss.
Projected profit is down to £18.35m, down from £19m last month but more concerning is that is it down from from the £28.51m from this time last year.
That said, spending on facilities might have something to do with it…
You might remember that this cost £4m. But it’s good to see these improve and I thanked the board by asking them to increase our Junior Coaching Budget, which they did (reluctantly).
It leaves our facilities as follows.
I’ve highlighted the improved Youth Facilities (level: Top Youth Facilities) and Junior Coaching (level: Excellent junior coaching) but it’s worth noting that our Youth Recruitment and Training Facilities are in good shape too – allowing me to train the best players for Celtic.
Clearly the squad is moving in the right direction in terms of its European stature, but we’ve also got a long way to go before we can be Champions of Europe. How would you change the tactics or squad to improve?