Leipzig comes across as if music was already running through the veins of the people and the walls of revered buildings way back in the 11th century. The city is home to the St. Thomas Choir, one of the world’s oldest boys’ choirs. But the Gewandhaus Orchestra and Leipzig Opera, one of Europe’s oldest opera venues, have also set the bar high as landmarks. Also second to none are the city’s famous virtuosos: Johann Sebastian Bach, the famous cantor of the St. Thomas Choir, as well as Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Robert Schumann and Leipzig-born composer Richard Wagner.
As if the scene needing any further setting…..
Known to be fond of a tune or two, the Celtic travelling support is gathering in what is universally known as the German cultural capital in anticipation of an expression of art at it’s finest, a festival of football, that culture associated with the working man , which will find itself alongside some of the greatest performers and composers in the continents history…
The pressure to perform is almost unbearable, and yet what better or bigger stage can there be for the eyes of the world to gaze upon than football to be displayed in it’s purest form ?
Can the hoops rise to the occasion and display their talents ?
Well, we’ll have to do it without Cameron Carter Vickers, without Carl Starfelt, without Aaron Mooy and without Liel Abada.
The hoops have not disgraced themselves in their forst two outings in the competition, and certainly deserve more than the solitary point and goal they have recorded so far, and whilst they can be excused for perhaps not dipping their toes in with a little more confidence, tonight it’s time to move up a gear.
If we want European football after Christmas, an aggregate win over the two matches with Leipzig is essential.
And if that is to be in the premier tournament, nothing less than a win will do in the Saxon city tonight.
You get the feeling that the manager is looking forward to it as much as we are…..
“It’s great. It’s how you can develop quickly. Nothing beats that kind of experience, provided you go out there with a positive mindset and don’t let the game pass you by.
“It goes for a lot of our players. For most of them, it is their first experience of Champions League football. We are really big on making sure they don’t waste the experience and let it pass them by without making an impact. That’s what football is about. Every game is a challenge. It’s about keeping on performing at this level and if you keep performing you give yourself a chance to win games.
“All you can do is be prepared to take on the challenge ahead. Our first two games have been pretty good from a performance perspective. We felt in the first game we did well for about an hour then fell away. The second game, our performance was strong. It was a game we could have won. It’s not just about performance, it’s about the opposition as well.
“There’s a bit more to it than just converting chances. This is Champions League football. You don’t just make progress overnight. It’s stuff you build on. We’re under no illusions that this is going to be another massive challenge. There’s no quick fix.”
Celtic won;t change the way they play , even though in Starfelt and Carter Vickers they have lost what is arguably the spine of the team….. as the manager points out ;
“Carl and Cam are pretty much mainstays for us. They hardly missed a game. They have both had different issues. That’s meant that Welshy and Moritz have got an opportunity and it’s a great opportunity for them. A good challenge for them. A centre-half playing as a pairing requires understanding, but, in both games they have played so far, they have got better at understanding each other’s movements.
“I am sure they are looking forward to it because they have got some real attacking threats. They are both going to have to be on top of their games, but we can help them with that. Our concentration is on the guys who are fit and ready to go. Different players bring their own qualities to the game. Cameron is a different type of centre half to Carl. Moritz and Welshy are similar. It doesn’t change the way we play. These guys have different strengths and ways of contributing to the team.”
All they need to do is communicate a wee bit better…the back five , that is, and to be a little more aware of each other and hopefully the mistakes will be eliminated.
Hart, Juranovic, Taylor Welsh and Jenz will be the rearguard against a Leipzig side that has improved considerably since they sacked their manager after losing their group opener to Shakhtar.
Whilst offering due respect, Ange also reminded us that we’re not a bad side either….
They have become almost an established Champions League side, experienced certainly at European level over the last few years.
“They have players who have been there and experienced it. Irrespective of their league form, they rise to these games. They want to play at this level. You can see that their fortunes are beginning to turn around. I would be very surprised if they stay in that position in the league in the next few weeks.
“Every game is a challenge. That’s the nature of the competition. Every team you play is a top quality side, so, irrespective of what’s happened before, the next task is to take on the challenge that’s before you. Leipzig are a top quality team and with them being at home it’s a fantastic challenge for us. We just need to keep performing at the levels we know we can.”
The midfield trio of O’Riley, Hatate and the ever dependable MacGregor may seem lightweight, but it can be devastating when on form, and with Jota, Kyogo and Maeda starting there will be hope that Celtic can settle quickly and at the very least unnerve the Germans.
The previous two matches have shown Celtic, with perhaps a little bit more luck and just a smidgeon of faith can match anyone, but maybe the most important thing to be learned is the need for concentration for the full match, as was shown against Real Madrid when they took their eye off the ball for five minutes or so.
They won’t need me to tell them that, but what i will say is that if Celtic do what Celtic can do, then there will be a new genre of music in the air over there as the sun sets.
Another thing that just might give Celtic the edge tonight is the spirit of the man who made the club what it is today.
Jock Stein was born one hundred years ago today, and he took, or rather hauled Celtic from a club with a proud history and gave them a future.
For a decade or so from the mid sixties to the mid seventies he made them a genuine force in Europe that changed the culture of football and made it entertaining again.
Had the board backed his vision then Celtic would have been on a par with the continents most successful sides, building on what he had achieved almost immediately after taking the reigns in 1965. Instead, they chose to almost run it into the ground, culminating in the events that saw Fergus McCann ride into town, clear out the bandits and put the show back on the road,
When you look around our club, everything from the physical infrastructure to the heart and soul of everyone connected can be traced directly back to what happened during the years he was in charge.
Sometimes, we can get all glassy eyed when it comes to heroes of the past, and dwell a little too much on the achievements of previous generations, but perhaps his words can still inspire the current bearers of the banners…..
We might as well start tonight….