Kyogo delivers but Bhoys look brittle: 3 things we learned from AZ v Celtic

By Euan Davidson

August 26, 2021

Celtic made life extremely difficult for themselves against AZ Alkmaar.

An early 1-0 lead, 3-0 on aggregate, very quickly turned into a needlessly nervous night in the Netherlands. It was typical away stuff in Europe for the Bhoys; anxious defending, sloppy mistakes and a lack of confidence.

For the first time, we saw an unconvincing display from Joe Hart. The commanding goalkeeper has been excellent since joining, and did make good saves, but it was obvious that an early mistake had unsettled his nerves.

Going forward, we looked typically dangerous, but this was as difficult a test as Celtic could’ve realistically faced at this point. But hey, that’s us in the draw tomorrow!

Take a big deep breath, and let’s talk about the 3 things we learned from AZ Alkmaar v Celtic.

Photo by ANP Sport via Getty Images

Young defence needs time but it’s wearing Celtic fans’ patience

Maybe he just needs more time to gain some confidence, but Starfelt was all over the place.

The Odsonne Edouard gamble Celtic look set to take

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The Odsonne Edouard gamble Celtic look set to take
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It was hard to tell which of our defenders was the £4.5m international. His own goal was farcical; a nothing cross from AZ right-back Sugawara that should really have been dealt with easily.

It has to be a confidence thing. Mistakes beget mistakes, because players low on self-belief are going to try to force things. That seems to be the way with Starfelt just now, despite keeping 4 clean sheets in our last 7 games.

Starfelt might turn out to be a really good signing. But so far, it’s not been entirely convincing.

Welsh, meanwhile, had one of his more nervous nights. His hospital pass to Joe Hart – himself not at his best – put AZ right back in the game. Ralston, meanwhile, looked nervous and ragged against a strong Jesper Karlsson-led left-flank.

This defence may do the job domestically, but it needs improvement. Juranovic and Scales may be upgrades, but the work can’t be done.

Clinical Kyogo vital for Celtic against AZ Alkmaar

Thank goodness, then, for Kyogo Furuhashi. What seemed like a bit of a luxury goal almost instantly became vital. The Japan striker was on hand to finish off a devastating Celtic counter, with Ralston taking advantage of Abada’s excellent positioning, with the Israeli winger setting up his striker with a pinpoint pass.

It was excellent stuff, and there can’t be too many complaints about Celtic going forward. Until we have a defence that’s truly reliable on the European stage, the best approach will be to attempt a relentlessly attacking brand of football.

Photo by ANP Sport via Getty Images

It might’ve looked an easy chance, too, but the speed on the ball meant it needed a cool finish from Kyogo to put Celtic one up against AZ. At that point, we probably expected a smoother ride of things, maybe even a reversal of our trends in Europe.

Not the case!

Celtic need to stick to principles, even under duress, as AZ match shows

One of the more disappointing features of this game was Celtic’s inability to hold onto the ball.

It sounds early to call something “uncharacteristic” given how little time Ange Postecoglou has actually been at the club. However, he’ll be tearing his hair out after what he saw, particularly early in the second half.

Too often, Celtic were just launching the ball up the park, only to greet it as AZ launched players in possession the other way. By the 60th minute, Joe Hart had played 18 long balls; more than he hit in the entirety of the first leg [FotMob].

That’s a function of nerves. This team isn’t at the stage yet where, under pressure, there’s a calmness and consistency of approach. It’s a bit more like last season where, under the slightest duress, Celtic revert to type a little.

It’s something that can be ironed out, but it’s a worrying sign. Edouard coming in really helped. Having players who can hold up the ball, slow things down and move things along makes such an impact.

For all the talk of how fantastic Ange-ball has been though – and it has – it’s not been entirely implemented. Perhaps this can be chalked as a learning experience, but what a stage to do that learning.

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