The stark tactical lessons to learn from Celtic loss against Bayer Leverkusen

By Euan Davidson

November 26, 2021

Last night’s game between Celtic and Bayer Leverkusen was frenetic, dramatic and end-to-end as it gets.

It’s kind of what we were promised; the Bhoys went right at Bayer, hounding and harassing on the ball. But Leverkusen eventually gave as good as they got, overcoming a courageous Celtic on the night.

A lot of the post-match analysis will be focused on the substitutions. What Ange didn’t get right, the lack of quality off the bench, and so on. That’s fair enough, and there were big chances for Celtic after going 2-1 up that ought to have been taken.

Photo by INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images

But there were some things that Ange Postecoglou and his staff need to get right on the training ground. For sure, last night was a lesson, one with a lot of positives.

And with a few tweaks, Celtic will be able to overcome teams of Leverkusen’s stature.

Here are the areas where Celtic need to improve.

Bayer Leverkusen 3-2 Celtic | LIVE Reaction

Bayer Leverkusen 3-2 Celtic | LIVE Reaction
67 Hail Hail (Youtube)

Celtic were overrun in midfield by Bayer Leverkusen

If you look at the touches Callum McGregor and David Turnbull made, you’ll see they were absolutely everywhere [WhoScored?]. Both got on the ball over 60 times; not bad until you compare it to Palacios’ 101 touches, and Andrich’s 88.

Neither of the pure central midfielders for Celtic last night were able to dominate the middle of the pitch. All too often, one of David Turnbull or Callum McGregor were made to go wider, with Nir Bitton taking the majority of his touches behind the centre circle.

Unfortunately, that allowed space for Andrich and Palacios to control possession centrally. While the mobility and pressing in this side is excellent, there just wasn’t enough of a presence in the middle of the park to counter Bayer Leverkusen’s chief creators.

Andrich in particular had an excellent game. With Nir Bitton having too much to do, the former Union Berlin man was allowed too much space to operate.

Photo by Alex Gottschalk/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Setting Kyogo free against organised defences is an issue

Celtic were unable to get into Bayer Leverkusen’s six-yard box. No shots were from close range, meaning that Celtic had to work that much harder for easier opportunities [WhoScored?].

A lot of that was down to an inability to get it to the wide players often enough, particularly James Forrest. Very little was coming down his way, and when it did, Celtic looked that much more dangerous.

It was Forrest’s brilliant first touch from a Joe Hart long ball that made the second goal possible. Unfortunately, Celtic just weren’t able to utilise that side more often.

And that’s a wasted opportunity. Piero Hincapié, a centre-back by trade, had to play left-back last night. Focusing on getting the ball to Forrest could’ve been a real advantage.

Forrest wasn’t able to deliver the ball in with any regularity. Jota was, of course, excellent, but he wasn’t able to get to the byline and cross in balls for Kyogo either, certainly not for Kyogo to execute from short-range.

Kyogo is a brilliant footballer, who much of the time, creates his own opportunities with smart movement. There’s only so much he can do, though, and despite not being able to do much through McGregor and Turnbull, the wingers were hamstrung by a lack of service, thereby limiting Kyogo.

The difference between us and the bigger sides we come up against is that they seem to effortlessly create high percentage chances. We seem to have to work that much harder, and rely on mistakes. Ange Postecoglou won’t be happy with that; domestically, it’s the other way round.

Photo by Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

Ange Postecoglou and Celtic can use Bayer Leverkusen as a yardstick

Obviously, having plans against quality teams and being able to carry them out are different things entirely.

Celtic were superb last night, and desperately unlucky not to win 3 vital points in the Europa League. But there were issues with build-up play and presence in the middle of the park that ultimately cost us.

This team will get better under Ange Postecoglou, no ifs ands or buts about it.

What do Celtic need to do better? The pressing last night was very decent, but there was too much space in the middle for Bayer Leverkusen’s players to exploit. A balance needs to be found there.

Then, on the ball, it’s about using the width we have to get to the bylines for easier chances, and be able to utilise Kyogo’s spacial awareness better.

It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Of course, it’s absolutely not. However, we’ve see significant improvement from this team already. From where they were to where they are now, the change is vast.

Read more: Don’t miss Joe Hart’s fiery, passionate interview and promise after Celtic defeat