Last night’s performance was a vast improvement on the horrible displays against Legia and gave us our second insight (after United) into how Ronny Deila is changing the way Celtic play football.
Key to the performance was the movement of his two Norwegians, Stefan Johansen and Jo Inge Berget, Callum McGregor and Beram Kayal. Johansen, who closed down space high up the field, pressurising defenders, played his best game for Celtic. Less said about his clearance of a Virgil van Dijk header the better.
Watching Kayal was like meeting an old friend again. The player, who in 2011 kept Victor Wanyama out of the team, has been a shadow of his former self since returning from injury two years ago. He is another player who enjoys closing space.
I’m an acknowledged cynic when it comes to even remotely hyped young players breaking through the ranks, but Callum McGregor has now delivered repeatedly. There is a long hard season ahead of him, and let’s remember, form fluctuates, but he has looked like one of the best players in the team so far. I doubt any Celtic player has opened the scoring in three consecutive European away games.
The first 35 minutes saw Maribor sit deep, which allowed Celtic to build patiently. Movement was good during this period, players in possession always had options, so we were able to switch play, force opponents to chase the ball, and penetrate with purpose.
Play was bound to change when Maribor started to close down higher up field, but Celtic reacted by playing low-percentage balls forward, which invariably resulted in possession being lost. I would like to see us look for less-ambitious passes more often.
There were several concerns, not least of all at the back. A defence which was impregnable for much of last season is now being cut open with regularity. I don’t subscribe to the view that players suddenly lose instinct and awareness over the summer, so it’s likely that a change in the midfield shape is exposing frailties in defence.
Maribor players found themselves clean through on a couple of occasions last night, echoing what happened in Warsaw and at Murrayfield. Ronny needs to find a fix.
Despite clearly being the better team, there is still a big job ahead for Celtic next week, better teams don’t always win, but a disciplined performance, no red cards, no mistakes at the back, should see us through.
Take no chances at Inverness on Saturday, make sure players are rested and fit.