Impressive outcast, familiar woes: 3 things we learned as Celtic held by Midtjylland

By Euan Davidson

July 20, 2021

So, this is pretty much exactly what we wanted from Celtic v FC Midtjylland. Drama, goals, shocks and entertaining football. Except, we just couldn’t get the win.

This game had everything. From a tactical perspective, Celtic looked far better equipped for the demands of Ange Postecoglou’s system. Unfortunately, we were undone by a moment of daftness and our old friend, the set-piece.

For the first time in a long time, the Bhoys showed intent on the ball, pressed relentlessly, and delighted the 9,000 in attendance with some excellent phases of play.

There were certainly some eyebrow raising choices made pre-match, not least the inclusions of Liel Abada and Ryan Christie, the latter of whom looked a long way off the pace in pre-season.

So, what did we learn from Ange Postecoglou’s first game in charge, with Captain Callum McGregor leading the team [Celtic FC]?

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Some interesting Celtic tactics, as Postecoglou employs inverted full-backs against Midtjylland

One key difference already from last season is how the new Celtic boss utilises full-backs.

Last season, they were all-purpose, depended upon to both keep a line and provide the attacking fulcrum for the Bhoys. It didn’t work, more often than not.

Postecoglou, however, kept his centre-backs wide, wide apart, with Taylor and Ralston underlapping behind Christie and (in the first half) Abada.

That created some interesting mismatches, with the Bhoys overloading Midtjylland in attack. In terms of creating clear-cut opportunities, it’s a method that has potential.

The players aren’t quite used to it yet, but they’re moving both forward laterally. It certainly unlocked the best from Abada and Christie in the first 45, with the two wingers attacking the byline to create opportunities.

That’s something fans were crying out for last season. And, under Postecoglou, it looks to be the norm.

Photo by Steve Welsh/Getty Images

Ryan Christie back from the cold?

For much of last season, I moaned about Ryan Christie being used as a winger.

A right-winger, mind. In this game, he was picked on the left, to very decent effect. Christie created and nearly took a number of chances, with his shot stinging the palms of Lossl; the subsequent rebound landed perfectly for Abada, who scored.

Someone who’s been linked here, there and everywhere this summer, fans will wonder whether he’s buying in, or putting himself in the shop window. Regardless of his motivations, the Scotland midfielder was impressive tonight.

Linking up well with Callum McGregor and Greg Taylor, Christie never forced the opportunity. Instead, he was looking for passes, and generally hitting the target with his opportunities.

Could this be Ryan Christie getting an opportunity to repair his relationship with the Celtic supporters? I, for one, hope so. During last season’s struggles, he was played out of position, and snatched at his chances. It became an ugly scenario, with many not wanting him picked.

Considering the goals and assists he’s provided in the past, that’s an awful shame. Here’s hoping he buys into Ange’s way and becomes the player we know he can be.

Photo by Steve Welsh/Getty Images

Same old Celtic problem against Midtjylland; an issue for Ange to iron out

All it took was one set-piece to deflate the enthusiasm.

After what looked like free-kick being awarded by an incredibly inconsistent referee, Evander ignored a tight angle and fired home past Barkas.

People will blame Barkas; maybe they should. After a promising pre-season, he was limp in his reaction to Evander’s ball. Expecting a cross, the Greek goalie was bamboozled as the ball went by.

Either way, it remains a significant problem for Celtic. How long will it take for a manager to set up the Bhoys to effectively defend set-pieces? It was a long-running joke, until it became a depressing chore.

It’s such a shame, too; against the run of play, Midtjylland didn’t deserve a goal for their efforts. Celtic showed zip and verve, pressing the life out of the Danes and creating opportunities. Ange is on the cusp of building something exciting, on the basis of the good things we saw tonight.

But Celtic’s perennial problem reared its face once more, and it cost the Bhoys tonight.

STRAY OBSERVATIONS:

  • Nir Bitton just doesn’t look equipped to handle the big occasion for Celtic any more. His red card against Rangers last season was daft, and it was the same tonight.
  • Dane Murray looked extremely solid after being brought on for Liel Abada.
  • It’s inherently funny when a player is sent off after picking up a second yellow for diving.
  • 9,000 fans make a hell of a lot of noise. How great it’ll be when we’re all back.
  • Ismaila Soro Ballon D’Or. Another fantastic performance from the Ivorian tonight.

READ MORE: Why Ange picked Abada, what he told his players