Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to
- Oct 4, 2014
Celtic Chris Sutton - Rodgers produced a tactical masterclass
As near as Sutton will ever come to eating his words. Remember that on Thursday he was slagging Brendan for not starting Musonda.
Brendan Rodgers was asked serious questions. Perhaps for the first time in his Celtic reign.
His response was to produce a managerial masterclass.
In recent weeks, it’s been hinted he has lost the Midas touch, that not everything he touches turns to gold.
But Rodgers did not put a foot wrong against Zenit St Petersburg – before or during the game with the Russians.
In this column a week ago I said it was a big night for the manager. There had to signs of progress.
Celtic were at their very best against Zenit
Brendan Rodgers celebrates the win (Image: PA)
Qualifying for the Europa League was a step in the right direction but the night when it was clinched when Anderlecht won 1-0 in Glasgow left a feeling of emptiness.
Rodgers’s team selection wasn’t right for the game. The players didn’t perform the way he wanted them to. There was the look of a team that maybe just wasn’t able or ready to really step up whenthe spotlight was on in Europe.
All the questions – of the manager, the players, the approach, the tactics and the selections were booted into touch. It was a brilliant performance from Celtic and don’t give me this garbage about Zenit being rusty having just returned from their winter break.
That’s just nonsense. They would have been ready. They were just outdone and it seems that whenever Celtic win a game at a decent level it’s put down to the opposition being useless or not turning up.
To my eye Celtic made them look ordinary and it was magnificent management from
start to finish through a process which had begun well over 24 hours before kick-off with his public declarations.
Rodgers played it all down in the build-up. He told anyone who would listen that Celtic were underdogs – not just in the tie against Zenit but in the grand scheme of things on the Europa League front with the millions being spent.
Celtic players celebrate McGregor's winner
In some ways he took the pressure right off his players.
Now, just like Martin O’Neill used to do with our group, he may have saying one thing in public and portraying a very different message within the confines of the dressing room.
Chances are he was telling his team they could do it if they performed. But his words calmed the expectations in the stands.
I barely met a fan before the game who fancied Celtic but the key is they kept faith.
Almost 60,000 turned out. If that had been a Ronny Deila team in the Europa League the top tier would have been shut.
At the same time that underdog feeling made them stick with the team as the game rumbled along at 0-0. No one grumbled when chances were missed or possession was retained by the ball going backwards.
The fans were superb and stayed with their side and I’m sure that was down to being told how tough it was going to be.
That job done it was on to the game. I’m not going to lie, I was surprised at the starting line-up.
Having signed Charly Musonda for the big occasions and talked him up, it took me back a little bit that he wasn’t named.
Musonda applauds the fans
Scott Sinclair is another go-to man for Rodgers who was a shock omission. Maybe not on current form, but on past experiences of the manager backing him.
Rodgers got it spot on. The midfield boys were sensational with Olivier Ntcham and Eboue Kouassi excelling alongside their captain. Scott Brown is a massive player in those type of situations and he delivered. But Eboue impressed in the way he did his jobs simply and enthusiasm.
He pressed it, he won it and he passed it. Nothing flash or silly.
Callum McGregor’s call-up at the expense of Musonda was another decision which proved spot on.
The Scotland man was simply outstanding and capped his performance with a magical goal, which was brought about by the Belgian kid after a sublime substitution from a boss who was getting it right at every turn. It was still a finish full of composure and class and capped a show
where he shone.
Callum McGregor scores their first goal (Image: Action Images via Reuters)
It must be said, none of the lads in the middle could have had the influence they did were it not
for Moussa Dembele finding his old form.
The French kid needed to hold it up and bring team-mates into play for the set-up to work and he did.
I’m a huge Leigh Griffiths fan but he couldn’t have done that job as effectively. The ball would have kept coming back.
With Dembele winning his duels he kept Celtic’s midfield men on the front foot Defensively, the questions were also answered.
Moussa Dembele holds off Zenit's Miha Mevija (Image: SNS Group)
Quite correctly the backline had been slated for past mistakes in Europe and also domestically.
Rodgers asked them to concentrate and his message got across. They were quick, aggressive and saw danger.
On the one occasion they were caught, Dorus de Vries proved himself by coming up with a save to justify himself, too. From start to finish Rodgers got it right.
Now it’s not over. Going to St Petersburg is a tough assignment and it may well be that Celtic still go out of the competition on Thursday.
But they now have a fighting chance and that’s down to the players and their manager.
Even if they do get eliminated, the first leg has offered real hope going forward for the future.
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