A different level
This week has been a good one for Scottish football with the two Glasgow teams continuing to do well in Europe. Celtic played with assurance for most of the game during their 3-1 win over Rennes and won a group which at the outset had people worried that they’d struggle to qualify. They are undefeated in four games against teams from two of the so called big leagues and have already recorded their highest ever points total in a European group. They have played in 13 European ties this season and their record is currently P13 W10 D2 L1. Their solitary defeat came in the home tie with Cluj in the Champions League Qualifiers and cost them a shot at a place at the top table of the European game.
There is a school of thought that a reinvigorated Rangers has spurred Celtic on to better things but that is only a small part of the story. Lennon and Rodgers before him have been building a squad which has cover in every position and are being trained to play good, passing football. They now have the best young Scottish talent at Celtic Park and have steeled them with quality additions like Chris Jullien. This Celtic side is young and growing in self-confidence and experience. All of this augurs well for the rest of the season and the challenges it will bring. Reaching the last 32 of the Europa League in such style is a positive sign and if few harbour realistic hopes of winning the competition we do at least have hopes of progressing further once the draw is made in December.
It did not go unnoticed that Alfredo Morelos scored two goals against Feyenoord to eclipse Henrik Larsson’s 12 goal haul in European competition in 2002-03 season. Only the most zealous Celtic supporter would deny that Morelos is a good striker. He is clearly is and seems to have reined in his rash behaviour this season. Some though have taken Morelos’ goal haul to mean he is a better striker than Larsson as they did when Kris Boyd became the SPL’s top goal scorer. Morelos, like Boyd, is a penalty box striker who knew where the net is but comparisons to Larsson are wide of the mark. This is a player who’s goal to games ratio eclipses both Boyd and Morelos and who has scored at the highest level of the game. Larsson is a Champions League winner, a World Cup Semi Finalist and the UK’s all-time leading scorer in European competitions. He is on a different level to Boyd and Morelos and was coveted by teams like Barcelona and Manchester United and his loyalty to Celtic kept him in Scottish football despite many offers to move to more lucrative leagues.
Larsson’s goal scoring exploits saw him hit the net against teams like Juventus, Liverpool, Celta Vigo, Valencia and Blackburn Rovers and Porto’s best ever side. In 2002-03 season Larsson scored against Basel, FK Suduva,(3) Blackburn Rovers, (2) Celta Vigo, Liverpool, Boavista (2) and FC Porto.(2) Only Suduva could be considered minnows among that group of clubs. Morelos has scored against St Joseph’s (4) Mitdjylland (3) Legia Warsaw (1) Feyenoord (3) and FC Porto (2). More than half his goals in Europe came against the third best side in Malta and a team ranked 114 in UEFA’s co-efficient table. This is no slight on Morelos who it must be said is a real talent but it is a decade too early to compare him to a player like Henrik Larsson.
Celtic fans will of course point to the fact that Morelos has yet to register a goal against the Hoops in 11 games against them. Indeed Kris Boyd scored just once against Celtic in almost 40 games for Rangers and Kilmarnock and was characterised as a striker who scored most of his goals against smaller teams. That may be a little unfair but what is undeniable is that neither Boyd nor Morelos is the all-round footballer Larsson was.
The form of both Celtic and Rangers in Europe this season is helping Scotland’s co-efficient and in the next couple of years we could see two Scottish clubs having a crack at the Champions League. That is an encouraging sign for our game and much as Celtic fans have enjoyed this period of unprecedented success, competition is what will make the team sharper. December begins tomorrow and it will see Glasgow’s big two lock horns in the League Cup Final and an important SPFL match at Celtic Park. These two games will have a huge bearing on how the rest of the season pans out. Celtic fans know that Rangers have improved under Gerrard but most still feel Celtic are the better side and should both teams play at the top of their game then it’ll be the Hoops who will prevail.
Football though thrives on uncertainty; a refereeing error, a silly red card or unexpected penalty can turn a game. So too can teams who batter opponents but fail to take their chances; Feyenoord could have been 3 goals up on Rangers at half time this week but poor finishing and good goalkeeping cost them in the end. It’s up to Celtic to continue to play with the style and fluidity they have demonstrated in recent months and remind everyone why they remain the Champions and best side in Scotland. Only Cluj and Livingston have beaten Celtic in almost 30 competitive games this season. Celtic have defeated both of them since and under Lennon are playing good football and reminding us all that there’s life after Rodgers.
Lennon looks a more experienced and more pragmatic manager than he was the first time around at Celtic. He’ll also know what it means to the fans to dominate the derby fixtures and push on for that magical 9 in a row. We can never be certain of much in football but we can rely on Lennon to send out a team with fire in its belly to fight for every ball. He’ll keep the players focused on the next games at Ross County and then on the home tie with Hamilton and ensure that they keep up the pressure at the top of the league. He wasn’t everyone’s choice as Manager after Rodgers jumped ship but his team is shaping up well and he now has the full backing of the support.
November saw Celtic win every game they played in. If they can replicate that form in December it could be another great season. All things in life worth having need to be earned though and the Hoops will need to battle hard to keep their winning streak going. We’re in for some exiting times before 2020 dawns so let’s get right behind the team and roar them on in every game.
When Celtic and their fans are united they make a formidable opponent for anyone.