Celtic 0—4 Bayer Leverkusen.

None of my mates thought we’d win tonight (perhaps I should use mate, singular). A draw would have delighted us. We can’t score goals and concede at every opportunity. One win in six games. Against a Dundee United, mid-table Scottish team, we looked vulnerable. Against a German team with far better players, we feared we could face the West Ham scenario again. We feared a thrashing. The return of our captain, Callum McGregor a godsend. Kyogo Furuhashi leading the line an unexpected blessing.

In the first few minutes it was end to end. Leverkusen had a goal disallowed for offside. Kyogo rounded the keeper, Hradecky, and looked sure to put Celtic one up. Tah came in on the Japanese international’s blind side and put the ball out for a corner. The Finish keeper was hard to beat all evening—only something exceptional would get past him.

Tom Rogic has a shot that the keeper puts over the bar. Adam Montgomery plays a ball across the Bayer box but Liel Abada doesn’t get on the end of it. Twenty minutes in and even, the much maligned Carl Starfelt, has a descent effort that the Bayer keeper is forced to save.

Twenty-five minutes in and Parkhead is silenced. David Turnbull is caught in two minds clearing a ball on the Celtic touchline. Bakker nips in front of him and plays a diagonal ball across the six-yard box. Hincapie beats Hart, but Montgomery gets a foot to it, but directs it into the net.

Celtic punch-drunk. Commentator Chris Sutton remarks some of our home town players were hiding and it was difficult to argue with him. Unfortunately, Ralston wasn’t hiding. He gifted Bayer the second goal ten minutes after their first. Dithering on the ball in front of a static back-line. Wirtz one-touch finish made it all look too easy. Celtic on the ropes until half-time.

Celtic went for it at the start of the second-half. Kyogo almost pulled a goal back, holding off a defender and bending a ball in at the post. Hradecky got his fingertips to it. Bayer’s keeper followed that up with a good save from Jota. Ten minutes into the second half and Celtic look as if they might have a goal in them.

Thirteen minutes in and Turnbull goes down in the box, after a challenge from ex-Celt Frimpong. Not a penalty. Frimpong didn’t have the easiest night. He created a couple of gilt-edged chances, but Celtic’s best player, Jota, generally, got the best of him—when attacking.

Seventeen minutes into the second-half and it is game over. Leverkusen get a penalty, when the referee decides the ball hit Cameron Carter-Vickers’ arm and booked the central-defender.  Alario makes it 3-0.

Bayer with a game against top-of-the-table Bayern, at the weekend, bring on around six or seven subs (I lost count). Kyogo finds time to miss another sitter, before he’s taken off. Abada misses a good chance too.

Giakoumakis makes his debut for the last fifteen minutes, but barely gets a kick. Hart makes a world-class save from a downward Shick header with a few minutes remaining. The Bayer substitute the ripped Scotland to shreds can think himself unlucky not to score.

Amine Adli scores the fourth goal, four minutes after the ninety, running beyond a static Celtic defence and hammering the ball into the top corner past Hart.

Celtic were simply outclassed, found wanting all over the pitch. Hart and Jota get pass marks. Kyogo? That’s a tough one. Four chances, no goals. Turnbull sold a goal and just didn’t play. Ralston also sold a goal. You could see his effort, but sometimes effort isn’t enough. Hradecky showed him how it should be done. Sheer class, attacking and defending. We want to play like Manchester City, but we can’t defend and aren’t scoring. This was as close to our first team as you’ll get. Certainly, Christopher Julien is better than Starfelt. I’m better than Starfelt. But the problem doesn’t lie with the Swede international. Good teams find it easy to score against us. So do mediocre teams. Livingston, bottom of the Premier league at the time, beat us 1—0. The good news is I’m sure we’ll beat Aberdeen at Pittodrie. Not totally sure, but pretty sure. They’re wide open as well. And if we can score three or four, we might get better than a draw. If we can hang on to Rangers’ slipstream we’ve an outside chance of the league because they too are stuttering, just not as badly as us. In the Europa league we’ll be lucky to pick up more than a point.

The Old Firm Game, League Cup Semi-final, Hampden Park, tomorrow.

liam henderson

I stood up and cheered when we got drawn with Rangers in the League Cup. We’ve not played them for three years. We want to rub their noses in it. We’ve missed it (but only if we win). Chris Sutton is getting some stick for saying what many Rangers’ fans believe: Celtic could win playing with their men blindfolded. That’s true. We’ve got the best young players in Scotland. And in Liam Henderson we have the most exciting talent since Ian Durrant (prior to getting smashed by Neil Simpson).  Henderson, like Durrant, has no fear. He’s gangly, his first touch is good, he likes to go forwards, rather than backwards and he can score goals. I think Celtic’s youth team is better than and could beat the current Rangers’ first team. They might even triumph over the Celtic first team. What I’m saying is the bookies are giving odds of a minimum of 8/1 for Rangers to beat Celtic. That sounds about right. Celtic have better players in every single position. Even in the old days when asked to pick what Rangers’ player I’d want in the Celtic team I used to ruefully admit I’d take their goalie. Now even our goalie is better than the Rangers’ keeper. And here’s a strange thing. I don’t even know who that is. Go back three or four years and not only would I be able to tell you who would start for Celtic and who would be a sub, I could also pick the Rangers’ team man for man. Now I can hazard a guess that Kenny Miller will play. Kenny Black. Nicky Ball. That’s about it. The rest is a blank where Rangers’ bank balance used to be.

Rangers’ fans will clutch at straws. They’ll point to Chelsea’s recent defeat. Manchester City’s defeat. Tottenham’s defeat. I’ll fling in Bayern Munich’s more recent 4-1 away defeat at Wolfsburg. It wouldn’t surprise me if any of these underdogs defeated Celtic. We are not a great team, but we are a better team than Rangers.

There are certain advantages at playing at Hampden. It’s a big playing surface. That suits Celtic. Rangers will want to sit in and frustrate. They’ll look at Ross County’s recent credible 0-0 draw at Parkhead, a game in which the underdog could have and perhaps should have won the match with a clear-cut chance in the last few minutes. That’s what Rangers will be hoping for, a Ross County with that chance going in and cup glory. Everything else becomes bullshit and they get the bragging rights.

There is another, perhaps, more likely scenario. Rangers score first. After today’s New Firm semi-final between Dundee United (managed by ex-Celt, McNamarra) and Aberdeen (managed by ex-Hun, McInnes) the pitch will be scarred. Celtic’s silky soccer will be disrupted. Rangers will want to outmuscle the Celtic players and knock them off their stride. The problem with that is physically if you look at both teams, Celtic are the taller and a stronger looking proposition.  Virgil van Dijk is the best defender and header of the ball in Scottish football. He looks like scoring at every free kick and corner and frequently does. Rangers will find that hard to counter.

For Rangers to win they must play like Ross County and get lucky. For Celtic to win they must play like the champions they are. It’s not cut and dried but if you only had enough money to back either team to get your bus fare home, or walk forty miles, who would you back? Celtic to win and meet Dundee United in the final.

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