Celtic’s starting XI against Red Bull could be very similar to usual, but how will the change in approach affect them?
Brendan Rodgers has claimed this week that he has learned from his heavy European defeats. Instead of taking a gung-ho approach in Austria, Celtic will be more defensive-minded and smart.
This should roundly be applauded by the Hoops support. It’s about time we stopped trying to go toe-to-toe with teams evidently better than us. In Europe, you have to play smart and look to frustrate the better sides. Even Red Bull Salzburg fall into that category.
The Austrians are sweeping aside all before them, and are looking like a terrific outfit. But, with Rodgers’ change in approach, anything can happen.
So how will Celtic line-up and what style should we expect them to play? Here, we take a good look at it.
For a start, Craig Gordon will stay in goal. This is one of the most obvious decisions Rodgers will ever make as Celtic manager.
Whilst not firing on all cylinders in recent months, Gordon is still by far Celtic’s number one. Scott Bain had his chance to impress last year, but failed to overly do so. Therefore, Gordon will play all of Celtic’s big matches this season once more unless an injury takes its toll.
At the back, you can expect the flat back four. Nothing out of the ordinary in that respect. Mikael Lustig will be playing down the right with Kieran Tierney over on the left. Jack Hendry and Dedryck Boyata will be strong favourites to be the centre-back pairing.
Hendry and Lustig are both going to frighten the life out of us on Thursday night. They’ll play frustrating passes, whilst Hendry will try Beckenbauer-style runs into the Salzburg half. But Rodgers won’t change from this normal back four, because options are too sparse.
Where Celtic are likely to change is in the midfield. Scott Brown and Olivier Ntcham are likely to be the holding midfielders. Yet, for Ntcham, instead of roaming forward and looking for passes, expect him to operate about 10-15 yards deeper than normal.
He will still look to split Salzburg open with some sublime passes, but his role will be a defensive one. Brown will need help in assuring Salzburg don’t overwhelm the defence going forward. This won’t be like a domestic match for Ntcham, and he’ll have to be communicating with Brown consistently.
Just in front of them is likely to be Callum McGregor. Again, he won’t be in his usual number 10 role. In truth, he’s likely to be doing more of the number eight role in the centre of that midfield.
The Scottish international has so much energy about him, and can carry his side forward with some dynamic runs. Tom Rogic can’t do the same and that’s why the Australian shouldn’t play tomorrow. McGregor, on the other hand, has to be in there to help shut off the space for Salzburg to operate before carrying his side forward.
The left-wing slot is strongly up for grabs. Rodgers could go for Scott Sinclair down the left and will definitely go for James Forrest on the right. Sinclair is just coming off the back of a huge goal against Aberdeen, and it’s crunch time for him.
He needs to show all of the quality he showed in his first season at Parkhead. If anyone is going to unlock the Salzburg defence with their pace, it’s him. Sinclair will have a huge task on his hands this week, but his goal in Athens should be enough to give him a shot in another tough European away game.
Up top, Leigh Griffiths will cut an isolated figure. Odsonne Edouard looks certain to miss out on Thursday, so the onus will be on Griffiths to provide a spark.
He’s become the number one striker in recent weeks, and has three goals in his last four games. Only a last-minute miscue against Aberdeen on Saturday stopped that being four in four.
Like everyone else, he’ll operate a good 10 yards deeper and have to hold the ball up. Griffiths will be the player Rodgers is relying on to bring the likes of Sinclair and Forrest into the game. If he fails to perform tomorow night, everyone fails to perform.
It’s a big night for Celtic, and with the new approach from Rodgers, the team wil probably be operating mostly in their own half. It’ll be down to Griffiths, Sinclair, and Forrest to haul the Hoops forward.
They have the quality, but can they get through a rough 90 minutes in Austria? To say the least, it’s questionable.