Postecoglou's gamble, Urhoghide verdict; 3 things we learned as Celtic beat Betis
Tonight saw Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou go absolutely wild with his team selection against Real Betis.
Former Sheffield Wednesday duo Osaze Urhoghide and Liam Shaw featured. Liam Scales got a start after his star cameo role against Dundee United. Albian Ajeti, so effective against Betis in the first game, led the line with Adam Montgomery and Liel Abada either side.
As line-ups go, we’ve never seen anything like this, not even in pre-season.
Yet, in the first half, it absolutely worked. Stephen Welsh got his head on a wicked corner delivery, and Celtic held the advantage. Fine, Betis rotated, but there were plenty of quality players, including internationals like William Carvalho, Diego Lainez and the timeless Joaquin.
An incredibly youthful Celtic kept it tight, and while Betis had opportunities, possession of the ball was roughly equal at half-time [Fotmob]. Let’s bear in mind that for some of this Celtic team, it was their first time playing at Paradise. Impressive stuff.
Betis did eventually get on the scoresheet, through an unlucky moment for Scott Bain, and a rare absence of pressing in vital areas. But Celtic very quickly responded through Ewan Henderson, who came on to replace Kyogo in a risk we really didn’t want to see.
The Andalusians didn’t want to make things boring, though, and some more questionable defending allowed Borja Iglesias to take advantage.
But another wave of Celtic attack, a penalty, and a third. We don’t do boring Europa League games.
There were some huge concerns though. As we’ll explore, Celtic now have a bigger injury list than before kick-off. Not least of our worries is Kyogo, who really didn’t need to play tonight.
A mixed bag? Here’s what we learned.
Ange Postecoglou in huge Celtic gamble against Betis
Yes, Celtic will absolutely have to bring in players this January. But perhaps the situation isn’t as bleak as many feared.
Again, this was a radical team selection from Ange Postecoglou. But whatever the result was going to be, it was going to pay off. You can learn a lot from training, but seeing who can make a difference in a big-game situation? It’s valuable information.
The midfield still probably needs work, so deals for Hatate and Ideguchi are surely only good news. But Liam Shaw was more than decent. Ismaila Soro, somewhat predictably, got a yellow card but was generally very decent against a strong Betis midfield.
Adam Montgomery continues to improve, while Osaze Urhoghide shows genuine promise.
Going into a transfer window, the temptation could’ve been to – beyond the first-team – rip it all up and start again. But Postecoglou went bold, and the lessons learned from tonight are valuable.
Even Ewan Henderson got a chance; and boy, did he take it. A brilliant moment for a player who was often forgotten.There’s more talent in this squad when we might’ve realised.
Ah, but. Ajeti went off, Kyogo went off (we’ll get to that), McCarthy, too had to come off. In total, 5 players had to leave the field of play. That’s far from good. While from a results perspective, Ange Postecoglou made the right call with his line-up, the damage might outweigh the positives.
Osaze Urhoghide impressive for Celtic against Betis
What a first game to get thrown into. If the stakes weren’t entirely high, the audience was still vast for tonight. No doubt, Postecoglou would’ve told his players to go out and enjoy themselves, but there will have been plenty who might’ve exceeded his expectations.
Chief amongst those should be Osaze Urhoghide. An immensely likeable lad off the pitch, we hadn’t seen much of the former Sheffield Wednesday man up to now. The B Team wasn’t really a route for a player who was involved in a lot of Championship action last season.
So, his road has been blocked somewhat. But tonight was an opportunity that he took with real enthusiasm.
In a comparatively young defence, helmed by a veteran presence in Nir Bitton, Urhoghide showed no fear whatsoever. In both an attacking and defensive perspective, he was eager to either get on the ball or to win it back at important times.
He made interceptions, he won the ball in the air, he was largely successful in his aerial duels and didn’t lack any sharpness despite the demands on him.
His desire to win the ball back was epitomised in one excellent moment. With the fresh legs of Sergio Canales on after 63 minutes, Urhoghide tracked him, forced him into a blind alley and made a great sliding tackle.
He’s still very much a work in progress, as is much of the squad. But Urhoghide is still very much someone who could contribute this season.
Worst fears realised over Kyogo realised
There had to be a negative.
With a veritable feast of December football to get through, the last thing we needed was a key player injured. It was bad enough when Albian Ajeti, the only real alternative to Kyogo, went down injured after nearly scoring from a goalkeeping error.
Ange Postecoglou didn’t really have a choice, in fairness. Kyogo was the only pure striker on the bench. But there was a sense of inevitability when he pulled up midway through the second half.
Again, the manager will be praying for the best possible outcome. We know this is a Celtic team that can get goals from all over the place, but Kyogo has been absolutely crucial.
Doing without the Japanese striker for even a couple of weeks could be a real blow. Especially with a Cup Final against Hibs next week.
It was the absolute last thing Celtic fans wanted from this Betis game. But it happened. And despite all the positives from tonight, that’s going to be a lasting concern over the next few days.