Optimism that the Parkhead club could build on their impressive displays in Europe’s premier club competition last term and record a first win in six long years were high among the away supporters who flocked to the De Kuip for their opening Group E match against Feyenoord tonight.
But they were left feeling a horrible sense of déjà vu when the final whistle blew as Brendan Rodgers understrength side, despite performing well against their Dutch rivals for long spells, ended up on the receiving end of another painful defeat.
The second half red cards which Gustaf Lagerbielke and Odin Thiago Holm received in Rotterdam significantly reduced their chances of cancelling out the soft free kick which Calvin Stengs netted in the second minute of added on time at the end of the first.
When Feyenoord substitute Alireza Jahanbakhsh struck with 14 minutes of regulation time remaining it killed off their slim prospects of salvaging an unlikely point. Still, the Celtic players will feel frustrated not to take something from the encounter after putting so much into it. Their mistakes cost them dear.
Here are five talking points from another disappointing Champions League evening for the treble winners.
There were no major surprises in the Celtic side. Nat Phillips, who had rolled his ankle at the weekend, was not included in the squad. Reo Hatate, meanwhile, returned to central midfield after making his return from a month-long injury lay-off three days ago.
The big decision Rodgers had to make was out wide. Did he put his faith new signing Luis Palma, who only made his debut when he came on for the final half an hour on Saturday, on the wing? He took the gamble.
The Honduran winger, a £3.5m signing from Greek outfit Aris just before the transfer window closed, probably got the nod because of his past involvement in European football. The 23-year-old has played in Conference League qualifiers with his previous employers and scored a winner against Dynamo Kyiv last month.
Still, it was asking an awful lot of the new recruit to perform in such a difficult away fixture on his first start. Would he rise to the occasion or be posted missing? He did the former before making way for Yang Hyeon-gyu. He looked capable of creating an opening whenever he got time and space. It was an encouraging outing.
Lagerbielke and Liam Scales had proved everyone who had tipped them to struggle against Rangers at Ibrox earlier this month – and there were plenty of them – emphatically wrong and helped Celtic to keep a clean sheet in a 1-0 win.
But would the Irishman and the Swede deal with the threat posed by the most prolific side in the Eredivisie this term on foreign soil. They were facing opponents who had just scored five goals or more in three consecutive matches for the first time since 1958 and only the second time in their 115 year history.
If Scales, whose only previous taste of the Champions League was playing for Shamrock Rovers against Slovan Bratislava in two qualifiers two years ago, was feeling any nerves about the challenge which lay ahead of him they would have disappeared when he intercepted a Quilindschy Hartmann diagonal early on.
Both he and his centre-half partner Lagerbielke refused to panic when they were in possession and played the ball patiently out from the back. Their composure was remarkable given their inexperience at this rarified level. They grew in confidence as the game progressed.
The duo had right-back Alistair Johnston to thank for keeping the scoreline level in the first half after Yankuba Minteh made a searing break through the middle. Goalkeeper Joe Hart also tipped a long-range shot from Minteh over his crossbar. But at no stage did Celtic look in danger of conceding.
The Stengs free kick which Hart allowed to creep inside his left post after Matt O’Riley had brought down Quinten Timber fully 30 yards out undid all of their good work. The former England internationalist, who has been in inspired form in recent weeks, was not helped by Kyogo Furuhashi jumping out of the defensive wall. But the keeper should have done far, far better.
Hart redeemed himself in the second half after Lagerbielke had conceded a penalty for bringing down Igor Paixao and been sent off by Bosnian referee Irfan Peljto for a second bookable offence. He saved the spot kick superbly. But by then the damage had been done.
Many of the issues which Celtic have had in the opening weeks of the 2023/24 campaign have been down to Rodgers having to field playmakers O’Riley and David Turnbull together in the same starting line-up. Both are fine footballers. But their team lacks balance and an edge in the centre of the park when they play together.
Hatate, who had been out with a hamstring strain, made a definite difference. The Japanese internationalist was perhaps, after so many weeks on the sidelines, not fully fit and maybe lacked a little match sharpness. He lasted less than an hour before being replaced by Holm. But the visitors were far more like their old selves with him involved.
He did well to send Daizen Maeda racing in on goal in the first half with a perfectly weighted through ball. His countryman forced Feyenoord goalkeeper Timon Wellenreuther to palm wide of his post at full stretch. Holm walked after a reckless lunge on Mats Wieffer.
The absence of Mexican striker Santiago Jimenez, who has found the target six times in five appearances this term, and Japanese internationalist Ayase Ueda was far from ideal for Feyenoord manager Arne Slot.
He did not have a specialist centre-forward in his squad to replace them and chose to bring in Newcastle United loanee Minteh up front. The Gambian had scored two in his previous two outings. The hosts’ front three, which also comprised Luka Ivanusec and Paixao, rotated. But they were unable to get in behind their resolute adversaries when they were up against 11 men.
Celtic will definitely feel they can avenge this defeat when they meet against in Glasgow in December. But will that be a dead rubber? They will have to cut out the needless errors at the back and offer more in attack in the weeks ahead.
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