Coming into this game, an imperious Lille side had conquered Europa League Group H and comfortably beat AS Monaco in Ligue 1. They were and are one of the form teams in Europe.
Neil Lennon’s brave team selection led to Celtic putting in the display we’ve ached for. We were all over Lille all game, and it was only through bad luck and poor set-piece defending that in-form French side kept it close.
This is the win we’ve needed. Finally, Celtic had a team full of players desperate to impress. The work rate was phenomenal, the courage and determination were tangible, and our midfield was both creative and dominant.
Here are 4 things we took away from Celtic’s win against Lille. God, it feels good to write that.
We were right about Turnbull and Soro
Both players were absolutely sensational.
David Turnbull set up Celtic’s first, scored the third and was electric all night. His work rate, movement on and off the ball and delivery from dead ball situations were extraordinary. It’s one of the best performances in a Celtic shirt that we’ve seen all year.
Soro, his industrious midfield partner, was everywhere. Celtic’s first followed Soro breaking up Lille possession the middle of the park, before striding forwards and hitting the French side on the counter. The Ivorian made a staggering 8 tackles and completed over 80% of his passes (WhoScored?).
All game long, both cemented their already reasonable claims for more first-team football. Both should start on Sunday.
Same old defensive problems
If you like watching goals, Celtic have gleefully supplied our opposition with plenty of opportunities. Although Celtic were better defensively tonight, they weren’t necessarily good, either.
Fine, the first goal, from a Callum McGregor mistake, was more than a little unfortunate. The second, however, was typical of Celtic this season. Defending the first ball in from a set-piece is only worth it if you can adjust positionally to the bounce of the ball. Marking has been an issue and will continue to be so if these mistakes can’t be fixed.
Still, pass marks to Jullien, Duffy and particularly Kristoffer Ajer, who had to perform as a make-shift right-back. Not once did Celtic look vulnerable down Ajer’s side tonight. It was arguably his best game in a Celtic shirt tonight.
Ignore the scoreline – Hazard was good
If you feel there was a touch of fortune about Lille’s goals on the night, it’s because well… there was. Conor Hazard can’t be blamed for either, and his commanding performance in goals will provide a lift to Neil Lennon.
It was a brave call to make, and it still might not be the wise one in the long-term. There’s little chance Vasilis Barkas will have taken kindly to being dropped again. The move to call up Hazard seems to suggest that Lennon has no confidence in either the Greece international or Scott Bain.
Although he only needed to make one save on the night, the Northern Irishman can feel genuinely aggrieved to have conceded twice. Against lesser opposition, he’ll have better nights. Lennon should keep his faith in the young goalkeeper.
Callum McGregor should lead Celtic’s youth movement
CalMac had a strange first half. Undoubtedly, he was at fault for the first goal, just after Celtic had gone one up. Nobody in the world will have felt the impact of that more than him.
Not long after, he made a courageous choice that perfectly demonstrates his leadership qualities. When presented with the opportunity to convert from the spot, McGregor grabbed the ball with authority and stuck it in the back of the net. As the most probably choice for the captaincy in the long-term, his tenacity and bravery were enormously encouraging.
It follows, then, that McGregor will be the one to lead this very young Celtic side in years to come. Turnbull, Soro, Hazard, Henderson and Klimala were all effective, either in an obvious way, or a quiet way. Klimala stretched Lille’s defence and worked almost as a false 9, allowing the midfield to generate shooting opportunities through good link-up play and movement.
If Lennon keeps his job beyond January, it’ll be down to the efforts of Celtic’s youngsters and the consistency of Callum McGregor.