‘If you play to survive, that’s all you’ll get’

Joe Hart was at fault for RB Leipzig’s crucial second goal

If there was anyone who thought a winless start to Celtic’s Champions League group stage campaign would cause Ange Postecoglou to rethink his approach, they were wrong.

A 3-1 defeat by RB Leipzig leaves Celtic bottom of Group F with just one point, despite three performances which have shown the Scottish champions can spook Europe’s elite in spells.

But therein lies the problem. Celtic have not been able to smother opponents in the same way they do domestically, which is natural given the huge step up in the class of the opposition.

“A lot of it is experience at this level,” Postecoglou said afterwards. “Guys believing they belong, guys believing they can achieve at this level.”

Eight of the 11 starters in Leipzig had never played in the group stage of the Champions League before this season, while Jota had only featured as a substitute briefly for Benfica.

That callowness has shown in all three matches so far, where Postecoglou’s high-intensity style has caused problems for Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Leipzig, but ultimately it has been combined with a lack of a killer edge and mistakes at key moments.

Against Leipzig, it was an error from Celtic’s most experienced player Joe Hart – who passed straight to Dominik Szoboszlai to allow the German side to score their crucial second goal – which turned the game.

But Posteocglou believes his side’s overall approach after Jota’s equaliser was more to blame. The Australian was more concerned his side were toning down the attacking mentality.

“A mistake is a mistake,” said Postecoglou.

“It’s not about that. It’s about what happened before that. We kept passing it back to him for no reason. You’re doing what you think is safe but that’s not really who we are.

“Once we got level we almost wanted to settle for that. I could see it coming. If it wasn’t Joe making a mistake, it would have been somebody else.”

Opta chalk board
Celtic, left, created and wasted several chances despite the scoreline

‘If you play to survive that’s all you’ll get’

It’s clear the Celtic boss wants even more bravery from his team. To get on the front foot more assertively. The question is whether it can work in time to take some scalps in the second half of this group stage. Or at all given the resources gulf.

Other clubs have shown it can take time to adjust to the Champions League over multiple seasons.

Club Bruges, who have won all three of their matches so far, have had some bruising defeats in finishing in the bottom two of their group in the past three seasons.

AC Milan played well in their section last season after a near decade out of the competition, but finished bottom with a young squad. Richer sides than Celtic have taken time to adjust.

In that sense, Postecoglou’s main task is to keep Celtic at this level so they have the chance to make those improvements over time.

And in the Australian’s mind, getting better at this level means not taking a backwards step in the face of more illustrious opponents.

“For us to get over this hump of being a good side and getting results we have to have a stronger belief and mentality, but that’s not easy, it comes with experience,” he said.

“We need to stay really positive in our mindset and with the way we play our football. If we do that, we give ourselves a better chance.

“If you play for survival that’s all you’ll ever get, you never get anywhere.”

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