The victory over Dundee United on Sunday should have come as no surprise to the Celtic support. The Terrors have been in poor form this season and frankly, they did not rise to the challenge when the Hoops came up to Tannadice. You would think that the opposite would be the case. The match was on TV, the press had built up the encounter and the crowd of nearly 11,000 was about 70% of capacity. So, why did Celtic get a comparatively easy ride? Well, that’s a question most United fans would want to ask Peter Houston and I should think his ears might have been burning on Sunday evening.
Our own management, while happy with the three points, would have been less pleased with the performance. United never really threatened as an attacking force, which means that most of Celtic’s players could concentrate on attacking duties; yet one single goal was all that their undoubted efforts could summon up. During this campaign, we will meet teams much better than United at hitting on the break, so it is important that we make better use of our superior possession.
Still, the three points gained keeps us those four points behind the leaders and this coming Saturday, the Old Firm are in action against the two Edinburgh sides. Perhaps the new man at Easter Road can put some steel into Hibs when they meet Rangers in the lunchtime kick-off down in Leith; two-and-a-half hours later, Hearts run out at Parkhead to meet the Hoops. Which Jam Tarts side will turn up? The one that can be so dangerous and effervescent? Or the one which seems to have little pride in wearing the maroon shirts?
Atletico Madrid had a good 3-1 victory over Rayo Vallecano on Sunday, a result which keeps them in 8th place in La Liga. They are a very accomplished, competent side, as they showed in midweek at Celtic Park.
However (you just knew that a ‘however’ was coming, didn’t you?), the result of the Europa League clash was very disappointing. If a team’s away record in Europe is poor – and Celtic’s undoubtedly is – then it becomes even more crucial that points must be picked up at home. You hear people saying that players at clubs like Atletico Madrid are never intimidated by the size of the stadium or the noise of the crowd. Don’t you believe it! The visitors would have been under severe pressure to do well against Celtic and it was crucial for us to make them feel the tension even further by fairly simple methods, like keeping them under pressure from the start, not allowing them out of their own half, getting the ball into the heart of their defence etc.
Unfortunately, such commonsense factors are nowadays sometimes thought of as old-fashioned or unsophisticated. Nothing could be further from the truth. All the good teams in world football play a pressing game, give their opponents little room to manoeuvre and try to test the opposing defence as often as possible. I suspect that Udinese will utilise those very tactics when we travel to Italy next week!