THE Celtic defence has come in for some serious criticism in the wake of their 3-0 defeat to Zenit St Petersburg on Thursday evening. Some of it has been over the top.
Brendan Rodgers said he could sense nervousness in his players from the very first whistle, and that his side lacked aggression in their defending.
He also suggested they lacked courage when attacking and weren’t brave enough in possession.
I can see where he is coming from, and there is definitely room for improvement. But the whole team lacked an edge in the game.
They just didn’t click and couldn’t get a rhythm going. It took them over an hour before they really pressed the Zenit goalkeeper.
What did disappoint me about Thursday in Russia was, even when Celtic were two goals down, they still only needed one goal to go through.
Yet their heads seemed to be down and they looked as though they didn’t believe they could get through.
So, they may well need to develop a slightly stronger mentality on the European stage when things aren’t quite going their way.
Dorus de Vries has been under the microscope in the last 48 hours and, yes, he should have saved the shot from Daler Kuzyaev for the second goal.
However, I have sympathy for him for the first goal, as I felt the original shot that led to the corner for Branislav Ivanovic to score, held up on the grass.
Some praised the condition of the pitch, but I thought it should have been slicker. That’s why de Vries appeared to go down a fraction early when he turned that shot around the post for a corner-kick.
Mikael Lustig has been criticised for his role in the third goal, but sometimes you just have to hold up your hands and accept that you were on the receiving end of a brilliantly whipped in ball by Ivanovic.
Lustig could have gambled before the cross came in and taken a step to his left, but it could have backfired.
The bottom line is that cross was every striker’s dream and Aleksandr Kokorin made the most of it.
However, in the cold light of day, things need to be analysed and improvement needs to be made.
Yes, the positives are that Celtic qualified for the Champions League and made tens of millions of pounds.
They also got out of their Champions League section and into the last 32 of the Europa League.
But, taking the qualifiers out of it, in the past two years they have won only two games out of 14 in Europe.
Everyone at Celtic will work hard to make that stat better reading by the end of this calendar year. They have to.
Getting into the last 32 of the Europa League has given them an indication of the performance level they need to reach to make a dent in this competition. The past week will have been a good learning curve for Brendan and his players.
People in football should never settle for what they have just achieved.
They must look to better it as quickly as possible and that’s what Celtic will strive for next season in Europe.
Providing, of course, they win the league to gain entry into the Champions League qualifiers, their target will then become to either finish second in their group or to make the last 16 of the Europa League.
That shows strides are being made.
They are back to league business today against Aberdeen and this will be a testing 90 minutes for them.
Derek McInnes and his players have the chance to put pressure on Celtic. A victory for the Dons will throw things back into the mix.
Celtic may feel mentally and physically jaded after the exertions of Thursday and the journey home, but they won’t be looking to make excuses.
There should be no adverse effect on them. They are back to domestic business and they now have 10 or 11 games to go to clinch the Treble once again.
Aberdeen will need to have all of their players in their very best form. They haven’t enjoyed a good record against Celtic in recent times, but that has to change at some stage. It could well be today.
And it’s not all about trying to catch Celtic. For the men from the Granite City it’s important for them to finish second and they know they have a real challenge from Rangers.
It could well be that the race for second is more exciting and intriguing than the race for the title.
However, we can only deal with what we have in front of us and, at this moment, we have a glimmer of a title race.
Does that mean Celtic are not as good as they were than last season? Or is there credit due to Aberdeen and Rangers for improving on the last campaign?
Let’s see where they all are in the middle of May when the points are added up and the prizes handed out.