Len­non’s Euro stars bring cred­i­bil­ity back to Celtic

Evening Times - - LAST WORD -

THERE is no doubt that Celtic’s rep­u­ta­tion in Europe had taken a bit of a bat­ter­ing but Neil Len­non has cer­tainly re­stored the club’s cred­i­bil­ity on that par­tic­u­lar front.

The pro­gres­sion through the Europa League group stages is some­thing to savour. Okay, it’s not the Cham­pi­ons League but I think the tour­na­ment is get­ting the credit it de­serves again.

Celtic, mean­while, de­serve plenty of credit for top­ping the group – the first time they have achieved such a feat – and they won’t have any ap­pre­hen­sions about who they draw in the knock-out phases.

There is no doubt that some of the heavy re­ver­sals Celtic suf­fered in the Cham­pi­ons League were slightly em­bar­rass­ing. You took those hefty de­feats on the chin be­cause of the fi­nan­cial re­wards and the pres­tige that play­ing in that lu­cra­tive ech­e­lon brought.

But for the sake of the club and its wider rep­u­ta­tion in Europe, for­tunes needed to im­prove. Los­ing 7-0 to Barcelona or 7-1 to PSG, for in­stance, were very hard de­feats to stom­ach for every­body con­cerned.

Neil de­serves a lot of praise for the way he has ap­proached the Euro­pean cam­paign and brought about an up­turn in re­sults and per­for­mances.

Celtic’s form on the road in par­tic­u­lar, an area that was some­thing of an Achilles Heal in re­cent years, has im­proved greatly and some of the re­sults away from home re­ally have been first class. This run has re­ally re-en­er­gised Celtic on the Euro­pean front.

The per­for­mance on Thurs­day night against Rennes was very en­cour­ag­ing and the fact they could af­ford to make a few changes, having al­ready qual­i­fied for the last 32, made it a very com­fort­able evening.

Even though Celtic made one or two al­ter­ations, it didn’t seem to af­fect the over­all dis­play and the dy­namic. It was a good night all round.

In the Euro­pean bat­tle­grounds, con­cen­tra­tion lev­els need to be at a pre­mium and Neil has in­stilled that in the play­ers.

The play­ers also have to brave when they have the ball and they have to make it dif­fi­cult for the op­po­si­tion to get through them when they don’t don’t have pos­ses­sion.

Those qual­i­ties have shown through in the group stages and Celtic con­tinue to reap the re­wards of that dis­ci­plined and de­ter­mined ap­proach.

Can Celtic now go on to em­u­late the class of 2003 and reach an­other Euro­pean fi­nal? I cer­tainly wouldn’t like to say at this early stage.

We don’t want to get too car­ried away, af­ter all. This is a dif­fer­ent era and, of course, the Celtic team of 2003 had a very spe­cial tal­ent in the shape of Hen­rik Lars­son.

Say­ing that, the current side is very well bal­anced, the re­sults have, quite rightly, led to a lot of praise and they will be look­ing for­ward to the knock-out phase.

Once you’re in that draw for head-to-head com­bat any­thing can hap­pen and there’s no rea­son why those of a Celtic per­sua­sion can’t dream about mak­ing fur­ther strides in the com­pe­ti­tion.

There’s a win­ning men­tal­ity and a mo­men­tum build­ing and teams will be a bit more wary of com­ing to Celtic Park.

As group win­ners, Celtic will hope­fully get a more favourable draw and avoid some of the big­ger names who drop down from the Cham­pi­ons League.

But who­ever they meet, Celtic will ap­proach it with con­fi­dence and pur­pose. They have set down a marker with the dis­plays in the group stages and now they have the op­por­tu­nity to build on that and make real statement of in­tent.

The Europa League may be seen as the poor re­la­tion in com­par­i­son to the money-spin­ning Cham­pi­ons League but win­ning home and away at any level of Euro­pean

com­pe­ti­tion au­gurs well.

The fact the win­ner of the Europa League gets a Cham­pi­ons League spot is a huge, added in­cen­tive and it has given the com­pe­ti­tion more lus­tre.

There may have been a sense that some teams were not ap­proach­ing it in the same man­ner as they would with the Cham­pi­ons League but I be­lieve the Europa League is get­ting the re­spect it de­serves.

Celtic are get­ting that re­spect back too.

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