Work in progress, Barkas improvement; 3 things we learned from Celtic defeat

By Euan Davidson

July 17, 2021

Today was big for Celtic, with Preston in town and 2,000 supporters making it along to Paradise.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, it almost felt like a semblance of normality had returned. Fine; if kick-off had been at 3pm, and more than a high fraction of fans were in, ourselves included, it would’ve been even better. But who amongst us can turn down the Bhoys at Parkhead, even on a screen?

There was plenty of sentiment on offer; Ange’s first game at Paradise, the return of Scott Sinclair, our POTY actually playing in front of fans. It mattered. Not least to Frankie McAvoy, who compared the game to a Champions League bout.

Talking of the Champions League, this was an opportunity to see how Ange Postecoglou might set his team up on Tuesday night against FC Midtjylland.

Being quite honest, though, this wasn’t the offering Celtic fans would’ve wanted ahead of such a crucial tie.

So, what did we learn as Celtic took on Preston North End?

Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

What a difference for Celtic to have fans back against Preston

Again, only 2,000 made it to Celtic’s meeting with Preston. Even then, what a difference it makes.

After a season of closed-doors games, hearing some familiar chants and well-earned applause felt like a Godsend. And yes, it’s obvious, but it’s just a much-improved experience.

If Euro 2020 was markedly better than expected for having supporters in stadia, ditto this. Every other year, this would be a fun, if kind of meaningless pre-season game. Yet, you could tell from the players the kind of difference it makes to have fans in after so long without them.

There were some nice moments early on. Fans got to sound their appreciation for David Turnbull, last year’s POTY and YPOTY [Celtic FC], and you could see him beaming after some positive feedback from the Celtic fans in attendance.

It also made an impact in goals. Vasilis Barkas endured a torrid 20-21, but fans sounded their appreciation whenever he was on the ball. We’ll get to him.

The Celtic attack is still a work in progress

Rome wasn’t built in a day. You have to wait for a Guinness to settle, you can’t rush perfection, and so on.

While the movement and passing between the defence and midfield looks decent, with Callum McGregor happily receiving the ball from centre-backs and moving it around, there’s a bit of a gap between midfield and attack.

So far in pre-season, Celtic started hot in front of goal, then returns have diminished. From 3 goals against Sheffield Wednesday, the Bhoys were goalless in Bristol.

Ajeti looked isolated throughout, with a lopsided focus from the left-hand side. Before he was taken off at half-time, Owen Moffat wasn’t able to get many touches of the ball. Swiss striker Ajeti, who was enjoying a renaissance in prior matches (An Ajeti-ssance?), could be forgiven for looking frustrated throughout.

The same was true for Odsonne Edouard. All in, Celtic didn’t really create significant chances, and that’s a concern.

It’ll take time, of course. A system like Ange Postecoglou’s was always going to take time for adaptation.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Celtic v Preston: Barkas is improved, Scott Bain just isn’t suited for Ange-ball

This might seem harsh. After all, Scott Bain only played a half, in front of a defence that isn’t anywhere near being a unit yet.

Still. As soft a penalty as it may have been, Scott Bain fluffed his lines, if he’s auditioning to play in the Champions League. Which you’d assume he is, in fairness.

There are contributing factors here, of course. Bain played in front of a make-shift defence, while Barkas benefitted from having Welsh and Taylor ahead of him, two regulars from last season.

However, the Greek goalie made two good saves, and generally looked like the solid option. Coming back from injury, he distributed the ball well, getting it quickly into the midfield, and looked assured throughout his first-half display.

Bain, not so much. If he’s our long-term back-up option, with a resurgent Barkas between the sticks, we can just about live with that. But here, not for the first time, the former Dundee stopper just didn’t look comfortable.

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