Celtic 0—Barcelona 2.

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Lionel Messi was meant to be a sick note, not a seen it, done it message– he only scored two goals in just over ninety minutes here, one a penalty, which doesn’t really count. His first came from another tax dodger currently under investigation by the Spanish authorities (why can’t we do that here?) Up until that point Andy Rat and me had been celebrating each ten minute spell that passed without Barca scoring, me with a pint. Andy with a coke. After all they did beat us 7—0 last time we played. That’s called lulling them into a false sense that we’re shite.  We’d almost hit the 25 minute mark. Celtic had started quite well, by that I mean they sometimes got a hit of the ball, without creating anything. Messi had a couple of half chances he usually scores from, one in particular which he miscontrolled, near the Celtic six-yard box. That was a let off.  But Neymar, from the edge of the Celtic box delicately chipped a ball over static defenders and the other tax dodger whipped it, first time, into the bottom of the net. Craig Gordon, who was Celtic’s best player and later pulled off a stunning save from Suarez, had no chance. Not even I would have saved it.

We all know the rules for these types of games. i) the diddy team’s keeper must be outstanding. Tick there. ii) the other team must be under-par, in other words, play pish. Well, the triumvirate of Messi, Neymar and Messi is as good as it gets, but any midfield without Iniesta is lacking. And when Barcelona where are that very best Xavi and tick and tack was such a beautiful thing to behold that you couldn’t grudge them victory after victory and the great clean sweeps of history. Nobody could stop them. In fact, few teams could get the ball.

Initially, here, Celtic were successful in getting the ball back, pushing high up the pitch and winning throw ins and even corners. Mascherano looking particularly vulnerable to Dembele’s muscularity and skill.  iii) the diddy team must score first and defend to the last.  Celtic went in at half time a goal down. Lustig was being got at on one side of the pitch by Neymar and Jordi Alba and on the other side Messi was prowling, with Iziguerre often in the same time zone. I like Emilio, he’s a great replacement for Tierney, and Scottish football is a bit of breeze, but, like Barca, his best years are behind him (although he’s not that old) and he is liable to get caught. By that time Sinclair was off. That’s a big blow because he’s got pace and, most importantly of all, goals, the top scorer in Scottish football, behind Dembele. And it’s a blow for the league cup final, when Celtic need to play like Barca and Aberdeen not play like Celtic and give away the second goal. Game over.

But we had the dog’s chance. James Forest came on, and played well, and I don’t often say that, and as this level that’s a real compliment. McGregor, for example, was a null and void bet. Rogic missing in action. And Armstrong although he showed great running skills couldn’t pass the pall in a tenement close mouth – he was rubbish. Only Scott Brown could hold his head up and that’s something he rarely does. Forest skinned a few players, flung a cross into the box. Dembele had one of Celtic’s few chances before half time, which he largely created himself and was unlucky, but which produced a great save from Ter Stegen. It wasn’t actually a great save. It was the kind of average save an under-sixteen keeper would have made spectacular, but we lived in hope. Dembele’s big chance replayed again and again until he scores. (iv) Diddy teams must take their big chance. Forest’s ball curved onto Dembele’s napper. Five yards out. Got to score. Doesn’t.

Minutes later Izaguerre caught out by Suarez in the box, no surprise there, you might say, the attacker falling holding onto the defender’s hand so that it looks like a penalty. It was a penalty and Messi scored. Game over. Twenty minutes to go, enough time for Neymar to get petulant and not this time with the tax authorities, but with Lustig and the ref. Barca coaches played safe and took him off. They could have taken off another six or seven (v) Diddy team always loses.

So here Celtic are, the league won, the league cup on Sunday and only the Scottish cup final in May to look forward to. Then, two weeks later, it’s back to the biggest games of the season, the qualifiers for this competition, because not only is it the best it brings out the best. Celtic sit bottom of the group. Barcelona top. Manchester City, who are next up – and I look forward to that game – second. Borussia into the Europa league, where realistically we’d hoped to be. We finished exactly were pundits predicted we would finish, but so what? It’s been brilliant. Loved every minute and we’ve still got ninety to go. The old Scottish champions playing the would-be English champions. Bring it on. Let’s hope the above rules run true and we hit a run of i-v and the other mob don’t score, because we’re the Barca of Scotland, to be shot at and brought down low.  God bless the Celts.

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The Trouble with Effe

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I was in two minds whether to go out and have a couple of pints and watch Celtic. Well, I’ll keep you guessing what I did next. We all know the score. I had Celtic to win on my coupon. One to three, PaddyPower, but easy money.  Usually, when the diddy team beats Celtic, their goalkeeper has a blinder. Here Scott Fox didn’t play particularly well. He was workman like.  Leigh Griffiths helped hitting him with a penalty.  Ironically, since the media have been telling us how good a player he is, and how important he is, he’s been rotten. Here he should have bagged three, perhaps four and maybe even five goals overall (and a hat- trick in in the first ten minutes). This was his worst game since Molde when he was equally as profligate. But you’ve got to persevere because there are no other strikers on the bench.

Then another pattern emerges. A nothing ball through the middle of the defence. School-boy defending.  Effe Ambrose gets himself sent off. It’s not his fault because he’s Effe. We don’t need people like Chris Sutton telling us, if there’s a big game, (and this wasn’t particularly big) Effe is the one likely to turn Laurel into Hardy, because we’re watching it. Celtic fans through and through.  Here he did what Effe does. Decent enough start.  He was very unlucky not to score with a header from a corner, cleared off the line by a Ross County player. Then he missed a sitter. The type of chance that Quinn gobbled up to score County’s second. And  yes, I know Craig Gordon was being held at that goal, but deal with it. Celtic defenders can’t. Ross County showed that with Schalk and their third. And Craig Gordon didn’t cover himself in glory here.

But back to Effe. If the bookies were giving odds on Celtic player most likely to cock-up over ninety minutes only a fool wouldn’t pick out and put his money of Ambrose.  Isaac Newton gets hit by an apple and intuitively knows the laws of gravity. We get hit with Effe.  We intuitively know he’s not good enough for Celtic, shouldn’t be at Celtic and shouldn’t be first pick or even last pick.

Pattern recognition. Don’t pick him. Ronny Deila has come out and said he was responsible for Celtic’s defeat. He picks the team. Nobody is arguing with him. We go to Aberdeen on Wednesday. I’ll need a drink for that one. But win, draw or defeat, we’ll still win the league.

Pattern recognition. We’ve got the best players in Scottish football. Erik Schivatchenko looks like a good addition to the team. Certainly he should start on Wednesday night. But whether the current Celtic manager should have another pop at the Champions League qualifiers, the biggest and most lucrative games of the season—before the season has begun properly—well, I think there’s something of the Effe about Deila, it’s time to move on. The worry isn’t that Ross County beat us, and they’re not a good team, the worry is that Rangers will beat us. They’re shite, but so are we. Pattern recognition.

Virgil van shite, not quite.

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I’ve missed the football since Scotland have been playing. It’s back to business next week with a must win at Motherwell. I see Virgil van Dijk played for Holland in another must win in Kazakhstan. He must have stepped up his game for Southampton who play as we know in the best league in the world, but they are not expected to win every week, but it would be kinda nice if they do, but he’s learned so much in five games that he’s picked for Holland. What he hasn’t learned is, for example, the humility of Victor Wanyama who was linked to a bigger club, where it also doesn’t really matter, but it would be nice if we won, in a proposed £30 million deal. Sure van Dilk was far and away the best Celtic half since Paul Elliott went to Chelsea. What he’s left behind is Celtic’s soft centre, roll up, pick any two from three, and wait and see who makes the biggest ball’s up. I’m hoping we’ve bought good in Jozo Simunovic. He got beaten in the air a lot in his only game against Ajax, in a way the van Dijk wouldn’t have, and Bobo, well, it just wouldn’t have been countenanced, but Jozo may come good. With a ball at his feet I’m hoping he plays like van Dijk and not the flipper feet of Bobo, or worse the square passes and lapses in concentration that take us backwards to Boyata (also in the Belguim squad, listen, he wouldn’t even get in the Scotland squad) or dare I say it, and I’m sure he’s a really nice guy and says his prayers every day – no I’m not going to tell you who. But we do pray for him too. That leaves to me and you and Charlie Mulgrew. He’s a Scottish international where he plays centre half and as a holding midfielder. I’m not sure that’s a recommendation or a curse. It seems to work for Scott Brown, but at least he’d one or two goodish games recently. We were good for Virgil (and Wanyama) and they were good for us. Van Dijk breezed Scottish football. We all know that. Often you’d see him so far up the park he was playing centre forwards. Izzy, as usual, was the only one further forward. Scottish teams sit in against Celtic and you need to be able to attack more than you need to defend, as Izzy shows, week in week out. But in the European arena van Dilk often got found out. Malmo and Inter Milan were the most obvious examples. Virgil van Dijk didn’t come here to play in Scottish football indefinitely. He’d have been told, do well and you’ll go to the best league in the world. You’ll become a millionaire. That’s not a dream, but a business plan. The problem now is we’ve no longer got any players worth the tens of millions Southampton keep giving us for our players. Playing against Hamilton in the last meaningful, must win, game, Boyata got turned and we lost a dreadful goal. Watching the game was ex-Hamilton manager and lifelong Hun supporter Alex Neil. He may have had a chuckle at the defending. But with the diddy teams, such as Norwich, in the best  league in the world, guaranteed £120 million from TV rights, Alex could have been looking to buy a few of the minnows from the Celtic team. None of them is worth ten million. Few of them would be worth two million. And there are some we would pay for them to go. Must win at Motherwell.