What can Celtic do to ensure victory over Paris Saint-Germain in tonight's Champions League opener?
Celtic welcome Paris Saint-Germain to their iconic home stadium for a hotly anticipated Champions League opener tonight. Drawn in a group which also contains Germany champions Bayern Munich and Belgium champions Anderlecht, Brendan Rodgers’ side have a difficult task ahead.
With the French giants stronger than ever, having broken the world transfer record to sign Neymar from Barcelona in stunning fashion and partnering him with Kylian Mbappé, the Bhoys will have to make the most of their home ties if they want a finish in the group's top three to be a realistic aim.
But Celtic have history in their favour. Since 2001 the Hoops have defeated many big teams at Celtic Park in the Champions League, including: AC Milan, Ajax, Anderlecht (twice), Barcelona, Basel, Benfica (twice), Braga, Villareal, Juventus, Lyon, Manchester United, Porto, Spartak Moscow and many other less celebrated teams.
So what do Celtic need to do to defeat PSG in tonight’s Champions League match?
Stop the counter-attack
It’s obvious that the Parisians main strengths lie in their forwards, and having a front line consisting of Neymar, Mbappe and Edinson Cavani would put fear in the hearts of any opposing team in Europe.
PSG have a frightening and dangerous front line, so Celtic will need to spend a good portion of their efforts in stopping their counter-attack.
Celtic haven’t had much competition in the Premiership recently, so they haven’t had a real need for defence. But coming up against the French giants, Celtic need to be able to stop them.
Celtic should defend with a deep, narrow block, two banks of four with little space between the lines, which would force PSG wide and back. A simple approach could be better because if the Bhoys do get a little too adventurous on the pitch, they could be heavily punished for it.
Under Rodgers, Celtic show ambition and bravery in possession, and the addition of Olivier Ntcham has given them a fine passer and added solidity to the team. Ntcham and Scott Brown are a good pair to act as a block in front of a back three – it offers protection from the counter-attack and allows five players at the back at nearly all times.
Have midfield focus on Thiago Motta
Like every team, PSG have their weaknesses and one of those lies in their centre of midfield. After failing to take on Fabinho from Monaco and having Blaise Matuidi move to Juventus, they rely heavily on Thiago Motta to protect its defence.
Motta is slowing down and there’s little cover behind him, which can be a problem against good sides. Their defence has been shaky, and the two young centre-backs they do have, Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe, don’t yet have the experience to take over from Thiago Silva.
As good a midfielder as Motta is, he physically cannot cover all of the ground, which could lead to their defenders stepping out to help. When Scott Sinclair is paired with Tom Rogic, the pair pose a threat and will threaten Motta, stopping him from covering ground, affecting their defence, and creating room for Leigh Griffiths to get to goal.
Use the same system they did against Astana
They would do well to use a system similar to the one they used against Astana. Celtic’s best performance was when they beat Astana 5-0 at Celtic Park – their system appeared to be flawless.
At the time, Celtic had a lack of centre-back options. That isn’t the case now. Rodgers could either stick with Bitton and use the same XI that beat the Kazakhstan champions, or play both Mikael Lustig and Kieran Tierney as wide centre-backs.
Get Griffiths to shoot
Griffiths doesn’t need encouragement to go for goals, which will bode well for the Bhoys as PSG have had problems with their goalkeepers. Although Kevin Trapp and Alphonse Areola are capable in the position, they both have a tendency to lose concentration, which is a huge mistake against Celtic.
Griffiths has the ability to take shots from any angle, take them early and with great accuracy. The more pressure he can put on the goalkeeper, the better chances Celtic have.
Use the home crowd
It is hard to argue that Hoops fans aren’t some of the most loyal club fans in Scottish football, which shows on the atmosphere that’s always present in Celtic Park – the impact of this on a Champions League night and the effect it can have on rival teams cannot be overstated.
The Celtic Park crowd can inspire, which has been proved time and time again when Celtic have made great comebacks in games they look like they’re going to lose. Once the crowd get behind them in full supportive voice, the Celtic fans can lift the players above their station. Riding that support will help them tonight.