There was an obvious gulf in class on Thursday night when Celtic lost 2-0 to Valencia in the last-32 Europa League tie.
The Spanish side displayed their class and showed their level of ability, in and out of possession, and their impressive tactical intelligence.
Apart from the opening 10 minutes of play, Celtic weren’t given the opportunity to threaten beyond the halfway line because Valencia pressed them high up the pitch.
They knew that Scott Bain would want to play short balls out to his full-backs and central defenders to build from the back, but the Hoops players weren’t given a second on the ball.
It forced them into sloppy passing and they were unable to find any momentum.
We all know Scott Brown is the man who dictates the tempo for Celtic but he wasn’t given any opportunity to do that on Thursday night. He looked frustrated, and that was understandable.
The La Liga outfit were clearly the better team and that’s not insulting in any way to Celtic.
I’d also say that Celtic weren’t poor on the night, it was a case of Valencia were very good and deserve credit for the way they played.
In the aftermath, I’ve heard some people suggest that Brendan Rodgers should mix it up a bit and play a long ball, looking for flick-ons.
But I can’t agree with that. For a start, Celtic do not have a big target man in their ranks.
So, if you launch it long you are going to lose possession and be on the back foot.
It’s better to stick to your beliefs and style of play, continue to trust in the way you work as a unit, day in day out in training.
Things just can’t be changed overnight, especially when you don’t have the right type of player to go direct into the opposition half.
Bottom line is, that if you take any allegiances away and dissect the game, there is nothing for Celtic to be embarrassed about.
Quite simply, Valencia play in a far stronger league and are tested by much better levels of opposition, week in and week out.
The Spanish side’s players think quicker, they pass quicker and they do things quicker. That’s why they are operating at a high level in Spain and were able to hold Barcelona to a draw the other week.
The two goals they scored were very well executed and the quickness of their counter-attack for their second goal, scored by Ruben Sobrino, was a thing of beauty.
So, give credit where it’s due to their players and also to their head coach, Marcelino, as he clearly put in a lot of homework on Celtic’s formation, style of play and personnel.
He will rightly be feeling the job is as good as done, but he will still be wary of a threat in the second leg on Thursday night in the Mestalla Stadium.
I’m not going to say that Celtic are definitely out, but they will need to score the first goal in Spain to have any chance.
Overall, though, it’s hard to see anything other than progress to the last-16 for Valencia.
If it all comes to an end for Brendan and the players this midweek then they can proud of getting through into the knockout stages. That mustn’t be forgotten.
The upside of going out of Europe is that they can fully focus on the domestic scene.
This afternoon they play Kilmarnock at Rugby Park and that will undoubtedly be a tough fixture. Steve Clarke and his players have achieved some excellent results against the Old Firm in the past 16 months and have the ability and confidence to continue to do so.
But the Celtic players now see the finishing line in sight and will want to make sure they keep up their superb form since the winter break.
They have played seven games, won the lot, and scored 21 goals without conceding any.
It all points towards them winning everything again this season, but it is not cut and dried. There is a lot of hard work ahead and strong competition to see off before anything will be won.
But it does keep the excitement going for everyone in Scottish football. There is a league race going on and we must be grateful for that.
There are also some tasty William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-final ties to look forward to at the start of next month.
All in all, the final 11 weeks of the season should be mouthwatering for a variety of reasons. Let’s enjoy.
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