Celtic’s hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Europa League were dented as they fell to a disappointing 3-1 defeat to Red Bull Salzburg in Austria.
Odsonne Edouard gave Brendan Rodgers’ side a dream start with a well-taken opener after just two minutes but the Hoops wilted in the face of consistent pressure from the home side.
Munas Dabbur and Takumi Minamino each scored to turn the clash on its head before James Forrest was sent off in the 72nd-minute for bringing down Andreas Ulmer in the box. Dabbur dispatched the spot-kick to complete Celtic’s misery.
As Rodgers attempts to pick up the pieces ahead of Sunday’s trip to St Johnstone, our friends at Football Whispers look at how the Bhoys’ defensive deficiencies cost them against Salzburg.
Celtic were careless in possession as they protected their lead. Although they at least held onto half-time, Kieran Tierney was almost punished for losing the ball after cutting inside in his own half, ultimately resulting in Xavier Schlager going close.
The Scottish champions could regroup at half-time but Salzburg just kept coming after the restart. Craig Gordon denied Dabbur in a one-on-one but the Israeli striker wasn’t to be denied for long. Ten minutes into the second half, Celtic inexplicably left the forward in space six yards from goal and, after Hannes Wolf cut the ball back, he duly swept the ball past Gordon.
Much to Rodgers’ frustration on the touchline, Jack Hendry was slow in reading the situation, allowing the ball to come to Dabbur before getting across.
Six minutes later, Celtic were punished down the right flank once more. With Mikael Lustig further infield, James Forrest was nowhere close enough to Ulmer as the left-back drilled a fine cross into the box, from which Minamino profited. By the time the ball reached the Japanese forward’s feet, there were eight Celtic players back in their own penalty box, none of whom proving effective in snuffing out the danger.
Celtic’s malaise deepened on 73 minutes as, having let Ulmer get goal-side of him, Forrest hauled the defender down, extinguishing Celtic’s slim hopes of snatching a late point in the process.
It could have been worse, too, had Zlatko Junuzovic’s effort gone in and not struck the woodwork, but the damage had already been done.
Only 6⃣ #SPFL players are averaging more than Miller's 8.8 dribbles per 90
— FansBet (@fans_bet) October 3, 2018
After a hard-fought victory over Aberdeen at the weekend, it felt like another frustrating step back for Rodgers.
Having failed to reach the Champions League proper this year, Rodgers was keen to still leave a mark on the continent with a deep run in the Europa League. And while it is a lower standard than its more glamorous cousin, this competition still has the tendency to lay bare the shortcomings preventing Celtic from progressing in Europe
A late Leigh Griffiths strike proved enough to edge past Rosenborg at Parkhead but Salzburg, who have won nine straight games to start their Austrian league campaign, were far superior across the pitch – and ruthless in punishing Celtic’s lapses at the back.
Rodgers bemoaned Celtic’s poor ball retention in his post-match remarks. Indeed, their pass success was only 71 per cent compared to the hosts’ 87 per cent while they resorted to 71 long balls, too, only 27 of which reached the intended target.
For Rodgers, a manager who prides himself on building sides capable of playing attractive, passing football, it was a thoroughly disappointing display. After such an encouraging start, there was an increasing sense of inevitability to Salzburg’s comeback as Celtic continually conceded possession and left space for their hosts to exploit.
It should be noted that Celtic were always going to find it tough against an accomplished Salzburg side without key players such as Scott Brown, Filip Benkovic and Kristoffer Ajer, but that certainly does not excuse the negligence that led to yet another dispiriting away day in European competition.
Celtic have still yet to taste victory away in the Europa League, having drawn eight and lost seven of their 15 attempts. On the basis of Thursday night’s display, it may be a while before that changes.
Of course, this was by no means a cataclysmic result. With three points from two games, Celtic are level with RB Leipzig and three behind Salzburg. However, fail to improve for the upcoming double-header against the Bundesliga side and Rodgers will be staring down the barrel of yet another disheartening end to a European campaign.
* Odds subject to change