What a week for Celtic. The 2-1 win over the mighty Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday night has been hailed as one of the greatest results in the Glasgow club’s history, and rightly so.
It was an awesome defensive display that won it for the Hoops, as well as clinical finishing from the impressive Victor Wanyama and teenager Tony Watt, who took his goal when through one-on-one with all the poise and expertise of a veteran.
Yes, Celtic (and I admit, I am a fan) had to ride their luck at times, and yes, Fraser Forster had to pull off a string of top-class saves in the second half (that’s what he’s paid for...) as Barcelona pushed and probed to try and get back in the game.
As the dust has settled following and epic encounter, there has been some criticism of Celtic’s performance, with supposed ‘football purists’ saying Barcelona were the real winners on the night, that the result was a fluke, and that Celtic didn’t deserve their victory.
‘Look at the stats’ they cry, with Barca enjoying more than 85 per cent possession of the ball, and creating close to 30 efforts on goal compared to the home side’s five or six.
They have a point, but I don’t agree with them, because football is about much more than pretty patterns and tippy-tappy football, although that is obviously pleasing on the eye and can be entertaining to watch.
As I have said before, there is more than one way to win a football match.
Barcelona may well play the most attractive football on the planet, they may possess some of the world’s best players in their squad, and they may be the best football team there has ever been.
But Celtic’s win in my eyes was no fluke, it was deserved reward for a committed, disciplined and near-perfect defensive display, which is not against the rules.
I mean, if Celtic had tried to outplay Barcelona, tried to take them on at their own game, they would have been thrashed.
So instead they made the most of what they have, and devised a gameplan that gave them a chance.
And let’s not forget, a fortnight earler the Celts were seconds away from drawing with Barcelona in the Nou Camp. So they must be doing something right.
The last time I looked, defending was still part of the game of football, and Neil Lennon’s men defended superbly, denying Lionel Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and the rest the space they needed in which to work their magic.
Celtic’s players kept their shape brilliantly, refusing to allow themselves to be pulled out of position, despite the ball being popped around relentlessly in front of them.
Yes, Barcelona amazingly completed close on 1,000 passes during the match, but I would love to know how many of them were sideways and backwards...
And where Celtic defended superbly, Barcelona did not defend well at all and that was their downfall.
They allowed Wanyama a free header from a corner to go 1-0 down, and then Xavi completely missed Forster’s long kick down the middle, a horrible basic error, and that allowed Watt to run on and write his name in Celtic folklore for the decisive second.
So while I agree that Barcelona on the night played some fantastic football, were a constant threat throughout and perhaps should have got more from the game, when it all boils down to it, the only stat that really matters from Wednesday at Celtic Park is the one that reads Celtic 2 Barcelona 1... and no amount of football snobbery will change that.
ENGLAND RIGHT TO PICK WILSHERE
Arsene Wenger is moaning again, what a surprise... This time the Arsenal manager is not happy that Jack Wilshere has been called into the England squad for their friendly in Sweden next Wednesday night.
The Gunners boss says that Wilshere, who has just regained fitness after spending nearly 18 months on the sidelines with an ankle injury, needs rest, and that he shouldn’t be travelling with England.
This is the same Wenger that has just fielded Wilshere in three Arsenal games in the space of 11 days.
Surely if he really needed a rest, he should have had it while Arsenal were playing Schalke in the Champions League on Tuesday night?
Wilshere can’t play for Arsenal this weekend as he is suspended for being sent off against Manchester United last Saturday, so by the time he trots out to play his 45 minutes for England in Stockholm, he won’t have had a game for eight days.
It’s hardly an excessive workload is it? Even for a player coming back from injury.
The fact is, Wilshere is fit and available, so why shouldn’t England pick him?
You also have to look at this through England boss Roy Hodgson’s eyes.
Wilshere is, rightly or wrongly, widely regarded as the answer to all of the national side’s midfield prayers, despite the fact he has only made five appearances for his country.
This friendly and the one against Brazil at Wembley in February are the only opportunities Hodgson will get to work with Wilshere ahead of the resumption of the World Cup qualifiers next March, and he needs to see for himself what the Arsenal man has to offer.
So I think Wenger should stop his what seems constant complaining and trust Hodgson – who only a matter of months ago was a club manager himself – to look after his player. I am sure he will do just that.
MOULT HAS TO LEARN FROM RED CARD
Let’s hope Louis Moult can learn from his rush of blood that saw him sent-off in the Cobblers’ 1-1 draw at York City on Tuesday night.
The youngster was guilty of a late, high and reckless tackle on the Minstermen’s Chris Smith, who was lucky to walk away from the incident without suffering a serious injury.
Football is a contact sport, and injuries are going to occur on the field of play, as the Cobblers know only too well following Alex Nicholl’s leg-break a fortnight ago, but players have a duty of care for each other.
Their livelihoods are literally put on the line every time they go out to play, and every player has to make sure they stay the right side of the aggression line when they are making challenges.
They can’t afford to be reckless.
I have no doubt there was no intent or malice in Moult’s challenge in midweek, it was just poorly timed and executed.
But it was still a dangerous one that could have seriously hurt a fellow professional.
And that is something Moult will surely realise as he sits in the stands serving his suspension for the next three matches