Daily Record

Another Mad night but Celts look more like real deal now

Contrast with loss to Bernabeu giants shows the Hoops are making progress at elite level


FROM Don Carlo to el Cholo. From naivety to more strength.

What started against Real for this Celtic core of players came around to welcoming opposition from the same city in Atletico.

Rugged, dogged and shouty, Diego Simeone is quite the contrast from smooth, suave and calm Carlo Ancelotti. Their teams also play in a different manner.

But what both of the Madrid sides have is the class and the guile for this level. And what Celtic showed last night is that they really are learning.

Ange Postecolgo­u’s side got so many plaudits for that first half against Real before they faltered.

Well Celtic were even better in the opening period here. And this time they stayed strong enough to get something.

Sure they didn’t hang on to win but this wasn’t the same old story.

Nothing like it. This was another big step forward in terms of style and execution.

It was a terrific performanc­e in spells. Frankly, beyond what many Celtic fans could have hoped for in the opening period. Second half Atletico won their point but Brendan Rodgers has a side properly competing with the elite.

So much talk about other things beforehand. Just talk about the team at full-time.

Rarely can a fixture have had such high-profile sideshows. Most chat ahead of it wasn’t even about the teams or the players.

The fans were a huge discussion point. Celtic urged supporters not to bring flags and banners relating to the conflict in the Middle East.

A large number ignored the plea and who knows where it will lead in UEFA towers? Atletico’s choice of attire also caused consternat­ion. Their decision to honour the 1974 team annoyed.

In the modern game you can’t get away with what Argentine boss Juan Carlos Lorenzo sent his players out to do that night.

But his compatriot Simeone, nicknamed El Cholo, has just modified it. They can be as dark as their predecesso­rs, they just do it differentl­y with shirt-tugging and time-wasting. They hurt your morale more than your body.

Leaving feet in and crowding the referee every time a Celtic player committed a foul.

It’s a constant pressure they have perfected.

There is class, such as the finish from Alvaro Morata for the second equaliser, and craft as they called trainers on and milked it when down to 10 men.

Failing to win will make it hard for Celtic to avoid finishing bottom of the group.

But the question you had to ask yourself at full-time was about Celtic progressio­n. Are they getting there? No one inside the stadium could watch that and say they are not.

Celtic’s failure to win a group fixture in the past seven years, and it’s 10 if you just look purely at home games, has to be taken in context when talking about today’s team.

Being realistic, you really have to gauge this side from that Real visit 14 months ago. The ninegame run for the likes of Cameron Carter-Vickers, Reo Hatate, Matt O’Riley, Kyogo Furuhashi and others starts there and the pattern had been similar. Impressive spells but also a failure to be ruthless and lapses in concentrat­ion saw them come up short.

Celtic’s football is clearly getting better at this level. It was typified by the brilliance of the opening goal – inspired by O’Riley, finished by Kyogo – and it was all over their opening half. Players prepared to take it under pressure, prepared to pass it and move and play themselves out of trouble.

Nobody hid. Once again, it was shown that just a split-second, a moment, can change things. This time it was Greg Taylor catching Nahuel Molina but they didn’t collapse after the penalty.

They gathered themselves and went again to go back in front through Luis Palma. It was enthrallin­g. Losing Hatate didn’t hinder them. Atletico are a top-class team and Celtic wouldn’t let them take a breath.

They were magnificen­t in the opening period and their maturity to keep the ball and keep their lead for the restart was another sign of lessons being learned.

Ruthless. Not wasteful. Two proper chances, two goals. To not get something out of it after the second half would have been a travesty but they did.

It’s been an eventful spell since Don Carlo arrived until El Cholo left. But the growth is evident.

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 ?? ?? DaRK aRTS Atletico harass the ref while gaffer Simeone rages, right
DaRK aRTS Atletico harass the ref while gaffer Simeone rages, right

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