Why Celtic v AZ Alkmaar has all the ingredients for a classic
Celtic v AZ Alkmaar. How’re you feeling? You nervous yet? Excited? Feel like there’s the potential for a doing, or for a glorious night at Paradise?
Fine, the stakes aren’t necessarily right for a “Celtic Park Classic”, the kind of spine-tingling evening of drama, goals and shocks. Either way, we’re guaranteed some form of European football. Either the Europa League, or the shiny, new Conference League.
And no, it’s not Juventus, Manchester United or Barcelona. However, when you consider a few factors, there’s every reason for our meeting with AZ Alkmaar to rank highly amongst our modern classics.
For one thing, they’re a team in flux. So are we. They lost their league opener against an un-fancied side. Regrettably, so did we [BBC].
They’ve got an exciting, outward-looking manager who values entertaining football. Box ticked, in terms of Celtic, too.
If you look at the sheer number of chances, the amount of possession, where they’re shooting from [FotMob]… it all points to some pretty interesting parallels.
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What we have here are two relentlessly attacking teams, who love to counter-attack, win the ball quickly, move it about with verve and zip, and score as many as is feasible.
Now, to me? That sounds like good fun.
With neither Celtic nor AZ Alkmaar at top gear, this could be quite a bumpy ride
As is well-covered by now, AZ Alkmaar have lost some big names. Their goalkeeper, and two of their main attacking threats: all gone [Transfermarkt]. Most teams in world football would find use for the likes of Calvin Stengs and Myron Boadu, two players who will likely have big futures in the game.
Similarly, we’ve lost key dressing room influences. We are now in the post-Scott Brown era. Kristoffer Ajer has also left, albeit to far less fanfare.
These are two sides under ambitious managers who are dealing with a series of moving parts. You could argue that Ange Postecoglou has a better handle on things than his counterpart Pascal Jansen. However, Jansen has boasted that other teams would be jealous of the squad he has. Bold. You have to say: fair play.
But Jansen is also missing some top names. Owen Wijndal, for one. The promising Dutch left-back is injured. Meanwhile, a key attacking threat, in the form of Jesper Karlsson, will sit out due to suspension.
That gives license for Celtic to have a real go at the Eredivisie side, as if Ange Postecoglou needed an excuse. In front of over 50,000 roaring Celtic supporters, our European opposition have definite weaknesses to exploit. But you can bet that if we find holes in their plan, they’ll be working frantically to do the same to us.
The Celtic Park Factor
So, what have we learned so far? You have two attack-minded coaches, two squads getting to grips with either squad departures or new tactics.
The first leg is at Celtic Park, though. And if we haven’t made it clear already, that’s a massive gift.
As big a side as AZ Alkmaar are, their AFAS Stadium holds 17,000 [Football-Stadiums]. Fewer, bearing in mind Covid protocols. As cliché as it is, they don’t have the same resources as us in terms of one very important thing – an atmosphere to intimidate any opponent.
We’ve already seen the difference having supporters at matches makes. It’s clear. Against Dundee, the Celtic supporters were simply willing the ball into the net at times. Against Jablonec last week, much the same. It was electric, boosted tenfold by a year-and-a-half absence.
That enthusiasm, that hunger to see Celtic perform; that won’t be going away. It’ll be amplified. And it’s incumbent on this Bhoys side to take advantage in the first leg.
The ingredients are there. The recipe is fool-proof. Tomorrow night has everything we need for it to be an instant classic.