Celtic should be more positive about their performance in Juventus defeat than their win over BarcelonaThe Hoops went out and imposed their style on the Italian champions but were undone by individual errors with the bulk of these falling on the shoulders of one man.
By Chalk On The Boots
04:47 PM UTC 13 Feb 2013
If you are wondering how any of the thousands of Celtic fans leaving Celtic Park last night are feeling following a 3-0 home defeat to Juventus, an easy way would be to ask a Barcelona fan. After all, the Scottish Champions pick pocketed Barcelona back in November in a similar fashion to the Juventus side who sneaked out of Glasgow last night with this tie more or less over after the first leg.
It was never meant to be this way.
The ambition was to keep the tie alive heading to Turin. Given Celtic’s impressive home form in the Champions League with only Barcelona leaving victorious, this was a realistic aim. Indeed, prior to kick off, a narrow home victory seemed entirely plausible.
Statistically, this was Celtic’s best performance in this season’s Champions League. The Bhoys enjoyed 53% possession and this time their pass completion rate was high at 82%. They had possession and they enjoyed that possession but more importantly they offered a genuine attacking threat in this game with 17 shots at goal with seven being on target. To understand the level of performance, consider that Juventus only concede an average of 9 shots at goal in Serie A whilst Celtic had been somewhat shot shy during the group phase with the third lowest number of attempts at goal.
The ferocity of the opening to the game seemed to catch Juventus out and they were forced back with Celtic engineering a number of long range shots and delivering crosses into the box as the Italians adjusted. Their midfield was on top of their defence isolating Matri and Vucinic whilst Pirlo had no effect on the game.
Despite trailing 1-0 at half time, Celtic were still very much alive in the game and the tie. With the high tempo and the intensity to Celtic’s play, it was inevitable they would tire as the game progressed and their attacking threat receded as the game progressed delivering just four shots at goal in the second half. Juventus slowly took control and Pirlo began to have time and space to play with Celtic pressing declining.
It’s too easy to label a defeated team’s performance as brave, heroic etc. Yet if you avoid the patronising cliches, there is an element of truth in labelling Lennon’s tactical selection as brave. He opted to begin with a fairly narrow 4-3-3 but this was not the ubiquitous 4-3-3 which we regularly see morph into a defensive minded a 4-5-1. It was the perfect approach and one which was nearly executed perfectly.
The trio of Hooper, Commons and Forrest stayed high up the pitch to press the Juventus centre backs. It was a tactic used perfectly by Stramaccioni when Inter visited Turin and won earlier in the season. Essentially, a series of individual duels would emerge across the pitch. Celtic retained three in the middle providing a spare man against Marchiso and Vidal. either Commons or Brown move towards Pirlo to close him down. Out wide, Izaguirre and Lustig went directly up against Lichtsteiner and Peluso. It was a gamble to go on an individual basis against more talented players but the effort and work rate of the team initially supported the plan.
The concern was leaving the Celtic central defence of Ambrose and Wilson isolated against two strikers in Matri and Vicinic. It was to prove to be Celtic’s undoing. The collective undone by the individual.
This was a fine Celtic performance, quite possibly one of their best in Europe in recent times, apart from the end result as they were undone by individual errors with the bulk of these falling on the shoulders of one man.
The Curious Case of Efe Ambrose
Efe Ambrose played was part of the Nigeria squad that won the African Cup of Nations on Sunday whilst Juventus Kwadwo Asamoahs’ Ghana side were knocked out at the semi final stage. Both have just returned to their club sides with Ambrose only arriving back in Glasgow on the morning of the game.
Despite being without Chiellini and Ceglie, Conte resisted the temptation to throw Asamoah straight back into the side and opted instead for Peluso, normally a left sided centre back, as the left wing back.
Neil Lennon had no such concerns about throwing Efe Ambrose back into the Celtic side. It was a decision that the manager will surely regret. It’s not solely a question of whether a player is physically match fit or not. It’s also a question of whether a player is mentally match fit. Within the SPL, Ambrose may have avoided punishment for his errors. At the highest level of the game, there is no such leeway.
Why did Lennon choose to put the Nigerian straight back into the side when he had other options available to him? Mulgrew could have gone in at centre half with Ledley or even Kayal chosen to play in midfield. There were viable alternatives.
The opening goal was a long ball over the Celtic defence. Although Wilson was quite far away from Ambrose, the Nigerian really should have dealt with it, instead allowing Matri in and the onrushing Marchisio slammed home, avoiding any dubiety of whether the initial attempt was over the line or not after Wilson cleared.
Ambrose continued to look shaky in a first half when Juventus only attacked sporadically, Celtic enjoying significant territorial advantage.
The possiblity of redemption arrived for Ambrose in the 61st minute when a quickly taken short corner saw Mulgrew whip a good cross into the penalty area. Under no pressure and with a free header, Ambrose could only tamely direct the header towards Buffon.
Juventus final goal began with Ambrose intercepting a Pirlo pass. His delay in clearing his lines enabled him to be robbed and Marchisio fed Vucinic who killed the tie.
Marchisio – Always on Time
Claudio Marchisio has earned a reputation as part of the industrious hard working partnership with the Chilean Arturo Vidal that provides the platform for Andrea Pirlo to shine, offering the deep lying regista the time and space to flourish. It’s also important to recognise the goal threat Marchisio offers breaking from a deep midfield position and arriving in the penalty area with perfect timing. Celtic were provided with such a lesson last night.
After the opening goal, Celtic were provided with another example of Marchisio’s well timed runs in the 7th minute when he arrived unmarked at the back post but could only guide the ball wide.
The Italian Internationalist scored the crucial second goal. Matri moved deep to receive a pass followed by Ambrose. The first time pass released Marchisio to break into space and fire past Forster. It’s a ploy Juventus have used before. The striker dragging the defender out of position for the midfielder to break into.
Marchisio was still breaking forward and just failed to connect with an Anelka cut back in the 90th minute. Arriving in the penalty area unmarked despite being the solitary Bianconeri figure in there.
Is this the end or the beginning?
As strange as it may seem, Celtic fans should perhaps be more positive about this performance than their win over Barcelona. Celtic went out and imposed their style on the Italian champions.
The Champions League is over for Celtic for another season but the return leg in Turin is another vital learning experience both for Lennon and his players. They have the qualities to escape the group stage and they now understand the level required to negotiate a pathway to the quarter finals amongst Europe’s elite.