Last week was depressing in its predictability. We have faced teams like Valencia several times under Brendan Rodgers and the result usually remains the same. Borussia Monchengladbach came, high-pressed with their forwards, dropped back in compact lines and we had no answers to them.
Red Bull Salzburg essentially came and played the same game and Valencia, so used to dropping off their moneyed opponents in La Liga, went through the motions they are so well drilled at: give up possession, high press in the opponents final third and try to force errors. If the press is beaten, drop back into tight lines, akin to a tortoise retreating into its shell.
Celtic don’t know what to do with these teams. The intensity of their high press is just nothing like what they face in Scotland, except on the odd occasion. And even then the quality of the domestic high press is the equivalent of tribute band: it looks similar, but it’s just a bit shit. Celtic are used to facing tight banks of 4 (sometimes even a 5 and a 4) on a weekly basis, so should have plenty of experience in trying to break it down.
Again the quality difference is monumental: taking apart a Hamilton at home bears so little resemblance to what Celtic faced last week that it is barely the same sport. And the kicker? Celtic basically need to win by over two goals to zip against Valencia. They have only won by this margin against SPFL dross 8 times this season in the league, the last one coming almost a month ago when aforementioned Hamilton was beaten 3-0 at home (the last time away win by same margin was November… 3-0… in Hamilton).
What chances do Celtic have of doing it to a team that has conceded 20 goals in 24 matches in one of the best leagues in the world (8 in 13 at home). Oh, and no team in La Liga has scored more than 1 goal against Valencia at the Mestalla. No one. Not Barcelona, not Celta, not Betis, not Atlético Madrid. The truth is: we have little to zero chance of going through.
But as it gets closer to game time I can’t help but get that false optimism I get before every Celtic game when we are against the odds. What if we score in the first 5 minutes? (No one has scored against Valencia in the first five minutes of a game at the Mestalla this season and they have only conceded two first half goals: one from Barcelona and one from
Atlético Madrid) What if we channel the Celtic of old? The get it up them spirit. Even then, we have barely won an important away game in Europe for the last 30 years, never mind by 3 goals.
I don’t think we can beat Valencia. Let me reword that: I don’t think we can beat Valencia by playing our usual game. I don’t see how we can play like we have been for the last three years under Brendan Rodgers and get a result. And I don’t think Brendan Rodgers will change enough about how we play for us to get a result. But as a thought experiment, perhaps we could consider these options:
We try to go toe for toe with the Spaniards with a compact 4:4:2
We know that Valencia are not going to come out, so we need to make sure our forwards have good close control and the ability to play in others. oliver Burke has been fairly impressive since joining, but this game will focus on his weakness (first touch) and not on his strengths (pace).
We don’t need a marauding right back because our full backs will have more cover from the wide midfielders than usual. We match up and we… see what happens.
Or maybe we consider that they won’t be doing much attacking and..
We take a chance and go 3:5:2
The expectation is that Valencia will stick to their 4:4:2, so why not allow 3 centre backs to occupy the 2, have 2 wide midfielders occupy their wide midfielders, have a man over them in the central midfield and give their defence 2 strikers to worry about?
But in reality, we will probably…
Stick with the 4:3:3.
My hope is that we give McGregor the deep lying central midfield position and ask Brown to give us one more shift as box to box. Ajer is the only player in our central defence comfortable of having the ball at his feet. So McGregor should be the one that drops back in between Ajer and Boyata and helps start our moves.
Brown was a disaster in the first half last week. He just couldn’t cope with the high press of Valencia and working with Simounovic and Boyata. Between the three of them there was not enough composure on the ball. If we have any hope, then that needs to change. So my real predicted line-up for the game is:
We will probably take Valencia on at the type of game they see week in, week out. We will probably attempt to pass them to death and we will probably come up short, because we are not as good as most teams that have already come up short trying the same thing against them this season. My hopes are: no more injuries, no embarrassment.
Valencia 1 – 0 Celtic.
The original match poster is by Frankie Mitchell (@madebyfrankie). You can buy a print of this and all of Frankie’s other illustrations and drawings from her online shop – her work is also available on t-shirts, stickers and many other products.