Ahead of Celtic’s crunch Champions League clash with Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday, the club had already been eliminated from the competition after collecting just one point from their opening four matches.
Still, expectations remained high as the Hoops still had the opportunity to finish third and qualify for the Europa League – so long as results went their way in the final two matches.
Three points against the Ukranians were a must, but in the end, Celtic drew 1-1, condeming them to a fourth placed finish in Group F.
The Hoops started off in relatively positive fashion, with Ange Postecoglou’s front six furiously pressing Shakhtar high up the pitch, It didn’t take long for the Ukrainian outfit to take a little bit of the sting out of proceedings with some care over possession, though.
Celtic took a deserved lead around 10 minutes before the break when Georgios Giakoumakis slid home at the back post after some terrific work on the wing by Sead Haksabanovic.
When the second half started, it seems like some of the players didn’t know whether to stick or twist – go for a second goal or try and maintain control. Reo Hatate, who was sublime in the first half, was guilty of this as he allowed some potential counters to go to waste after playing the safe ball back.
In the end, it was a piece of brilliance, probably avoidable brilliance, from Mykhaylo Mudryk that ended the game at 1-1 as he fired a strike into the top corner after displaying his supreme pace down the left and into the centre.
Here are three key talking points from Tuesday night’s proceedings:
Aaron Mooy is a Scottish Premiership Player
After a poorly-received start to his Celtic career in which his fitness, intensity and pace were questioned by many fans, Aaron Mooy has enjoyed a decent few weeks in the team, being given more minutes in midfield due to the absence of Callum McGregor.
Against some of the hammer-thrower sides in Scottish football, Mooy has displayed class and poise in possession and allowed Celtic to dictate games at their own pace. This is particularly useful when the team are one or two goals up and are happy to wind proceedings down in the last 10 minutes.
Unfortunately, what Mooy certainly isn’t is a man to rely on for creativity in a must-win match in Europe against a side with 11 men behind the ball.
It sometimes seems like the Australian is in his own little world as he treats football in a sort of aloof manner. This is why he plays at such a slow pace. In the last 20 minutes against Shakhtar, quick, slick passing was required and he just doesn’t do that.
While it was required of Celtic to constantly have Shakhtar on their toes, whenever the ball got to Mooy down that right-hand side, he would pop a pass here or there to James Forrest and nothing would really happen.
This aloof manner is probably fine, if not ideal, against some of the sides in Scottish football, but at the elite level Mooy is clearly left wanting.
Liel Abada Does Himself no Favours
In the Shakthar Match Preview on The Celtic Exchange Plus, there was a conversation between two of the team about the pros and cons of Liel Abada.
One suggested he hid in big games, while another said his numbers speak for themselves.
Indeed, Abada’s numbers are hugely impressive and he rightfully gained plenty of accolades for his performances in his debut season.
However, in ‘big’ matches, he has been disappointing, and Shakhtar was no exception.
What Abada does, and the crowd should probably shoulder part of the blame for this, is go into a shell whenever he makes a mistake or two.
For the first 15 minutes you’ll see him chase everything down and even, yes, attempt to go past an opposition player. Once one or two of those attempts fail, or when a pass or shot doesn’t come off, his confidence completely drains and it is almost like losing a player out there.
On the Celtic Exchange’s post-match analysis, it was suggested that the winger could benefit from some sports psychology work to help with his confidence issues.
And, this could certainly help as it does seem to be mental aspects of his performances that hurt him. We know he is fast, we know he can dribble, we know he has an eye for goal.
What Abada needs to do is channel those instincts that have served him well, arriving late at the back post to score for example, into productive work on the wing. When he has time to think, it doesn’t serve him well.
Has the Champions League Campaign Been a Failure?
Postecoglou has continually pleaded with fans to be patient with his players in this edition of the Champions League as his squad and methods are a work in progress.
Indeed, the progress we have made over the past year has been there for everyone to see.
And, it has been said time and time again after every match – we have competed at this level and just don’t have the rewards to show for it.
We should have defeated Shakhtar twice, put up a superb effort against Real Madrid, and lost two key players in Cameron Carter-Vickers and eventually McGregor against RB Leipzig.
Jota, too, has missed important matches.
But, unfortunately, the table doesn’t make for great reading. Two points and three goals from five matches.
Only Rangers and Copenhagen have scored less goals than Celtic so far, but that certainly is not any source of solace.
Celtic fans, for the most part, will be patient with Ange, but lessons will certainly need to be learned from this campaign.
Has it been a failure? That’s for you to decide…
Listen to the latest episode of the all new Celtic Exchange Weekly now as we debate giving our younger players more of a chance, and whether Celtic should call out the SFA on some recent poor displays by their officials!
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