RB Leipzig v Celtic (Europa League)
Thursday, 25th October
Red Bull Arena, Leipzig
Can Celtic overthrow the symbol of capitalistic football and redistribute three points to Glasgow?
Growing up outside Dresden, my German friend Dominique attended was she labelled a ‘communist kindergarten’. It was quite the mindbender when I found out; similar to someone telling you that their American great-grandmother was born during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency: an incredibly famous historical period in what you perceive as the very distant past suddenly embodied through the person next to you. Also makes you feel old. And a bit upset that I only got to go to a plain old socialist nursery in Norway.
Celtic go back to what used to be the German Democratic Republic, more descriptively known as East Germany, for the first time since 1976 when they were defeated by BSG Sachsenring Zwickau in the quarter-final of the Cup Winners Cup.
Zwickau was known as Aktivist Karl-Marx Zwickau in a previous incarnation, but Celtic’s opponents this time is the antithesis of the old communist ideals. Instead, RB Leipzig are labelled the most hated team in Germany, a buyer of souls, the manifestation of the turbocharged capitalist takeover of football. They are also a very well run organisation, where the club takes precedent over the individual and the emphasis is on creating a structure and system that lifts up the collective, rather than focusing on big personalities and stars. Hold on….
Can Celtic finally unite as a team in Europe and seize the means of producing an away win that could define their season? Do not underestimate the importance of this game; a loss could be a demoralising dent just as the team is edging towards top form and make advancement from the group unlikely – only days before the toughest defence of a domestic trophy they’ve faced so far under Brendan Rodgers. An away win would be a fantastic statement of intent, one of the best results under Rodgers and Celtic’s first ever victory in Germany.
- Leipzig have scored 24 goals in their eight games at the Red Bull Arena this season.
- Marvin Compper has played a total of 83 competitive minutes for Celtic since joining them from RB Leipzig in January.
- Celtic only attempted 357 passes against RB Salzburg in their last Europa League game, their second lowest amount under Brendan Rodgers, only beaten by the 321 passes in their 7-0 loss to Barcelona over two years ago.
- In this decade Celtic have played 22 away games in the Europa or Champions League group stages, only beating Spartak Moscow and Anderlecht. It’s obviously not a great record but in the 20 away games they didn’t win, they have recorded 8 draws, including against Manchester City, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Ajax and Fenerbache in the last three seasons. A draw on Thursday would set up a great European night at Celtic Park in two weeks’ time.
Emil Forsberg is the only major injury absentee for Leipzig, who is likely to keep choosing Yvon Mvogo as their goalkeeper in the Europa League, with former Liverpool reserve Peter Gulacsi their usual No. 1 in the Bundesliga.
They are a highly flexible team, usually switching between slightly different versions of a 4-4Diamond-2 and 4-3-3. Even with Forsberg out they have a lot of firepower up front with Timo Werner, Yussuf Poulsen and Jean-Kevin Augustin all netting four goals each at home so far this season. Their style of play and tactical structure is very similar to RB Salzburg, with the Austrian side probably the slightly better version within the Energy Drink Franchise Group at the moment.
Celtic? Who the fuck knows. By this rate Scott Allan will be rocking up in Leipzig, nutmegging anything that moves. James Forrest is suspended, Scott Brown, Tom Rogic and Leigh Griffiths are definitely out injured and the internet is awash with spurious rumours about half the squad and why they’re definitely not starting in Germany. If Filip Benkovic is cleared to play Rodgers could return to a back 3 with Jozo Simonuvic coming in, pushing Kieran Tierney and Mikael Lustig higher up as wing-backs. Scott Sinclair could replicate Forrest’s more central role against Hibernian, supporting and roaming around Odsonne Edouard.
When Brown went out against Hibernian, Callum McGregor took over his roles at the base of the midfield. With Celtic struggling to keep possession away to RB Salzburg, a more natural passer like McGregor would be an interesting option in such a deeper role. However, with Rogic out, Rodgers might have utilise McGregor further up the pitch and bring in Youssef Mulumbu and Eboue Kouassi to crowd out the central midfield together with Olive Ntcham.
- Oliver Ntcham vs. the temptation to shoot from ridiculous positions: Ntcham has the ability to produce some proper thunderbastards from range. He also has the tendency to snatch at shots from poor locations and his decision-making on when to unleash the right foot beast and when to pass still needs improving. With possession close to Leipzig’s penalty area likely to be limited for Celtic, it is important that the times they do get into good positions the right decisions are made.
- Filip Benkovic vs. Quality strikers: The Croatian have looked very comfortable in his three matches for Celtic so far, but an away game in Leipzig will be a much tougher test of his abilities than facing Rosenborg, St. Johnstone and Hibernian. Leipzig have been rampant going forward at home so far this season and have strikers that when on form would keep even the best defenders very busy.
- Domestic Tom Rogic vs. European Tom Rogic: I had this all written up and it was bloody hilarious but I can’t bloody use it now, can I!?
Prediction: RB Leipzig 1, Celtic 1
(Odsonne Edouard illustration by Frankie Mitchell – @ffraankkie)