Celtic 0 AC Milan 3: Five talking points as Kaka stars

Celtic 0 AC Milan 3: Five talking points as Kaka evokes memories of old at Parkhead on Tuesday night

By Sean Kearns
AC Milan

Celtic’s pain is self-inflicted

This match could have been a repeat of any number of Celtic losses in the Champions League in the last five years. Backed by a cauldron of rapturous support, Celtic started well and had much of the early possession. As they threatened to take a stronghold on the match, they gifted the opposition the opening goal. Milan’s goal wasn’t down to the genius of a former world player of the year or a tactical innovation, it was down to Celtic’s defenders and goalkeeper failing to take responsibility as Kaka nodded in the opener. If the first goal was bad, Milan’s second was even worse. Moments after Virgil van Dijk should have scored a worthy equaliser, Milan netted their second goal from another corner. Once again Neil Lennon’s team zonal-marked from a set-piece and it meant that few players attacked the ball. For Celtic fans, the match would have brought back harrowing memories of their last-16 clash with Juventus last season. Like that day, Celtic started the brighter tonight and were good in possession, but there’s a sense that the team is out-schooled on nights like tonight. Annoyingly for Celtic fans, it isn’t because of ability or performances, it’s know-how.

Kaka evokes memories of old

When the Brazillian collected the ball on the half-way line midway through the first-half, Celtic fans could be forgiven for thinking time was playing a cruel trick on them and that it was, in fact, 2007. For the playmaker evoked memories of his memorable solo goal in the San Siro against the same opponents, when he went on a mazy run. He glided past three or four defenders and looked like the man that was crowned world player of the year in 2007. He will hit the headlines for his goal that set up Milan’s win but what was most pleasing about Kaka’s contribution was that he appears to have regained the hunger that has been missing in recent years. The lure of moving to Real Madrid is an opportunity that few reject but Kaka was at his happiest, both professionally and personally, at the San Siro. His time at the Bernabeu was plagued with injury problems and now that he is back at a club where he is adored, on tonight’s form, he looks to have regained his vigour.

Lack of firepower hinders Celtic

Not many Celtic fans begrudged Gary Hooper a move away from Parkhead in the summer, even if some felt that if he were to leave, it should have been for a bigger club than Norwich. The striker had an excellent goal return during his three years in Scotland and the club more than doubled the fee that they paid Scunthorpe for the 25-year-old in 2010 when he was sold. While his absence is not felt very often in the league, it is obvious on European nights like this. Hooper was excellent during last year’s campaign, scoring crucial goals home and away against Spartak Moscow, and provided the clinical finishing which is needed at the highest level. Without him tonight, Georgios Samaras was tasked with leading the line, and though his efforts cannot be faulted, he rarely threatened Christian Abbiati’s goal. Anthony Stokes is rarely trusted to lead the line on European nights and playing with just one striker means Kris Commons must provide support to the front-man, as well as fulfilling his defensive duties. On nights like this, opportunities are scarce and must be taken when they come along. Without Hooper, it’s unclear who in this Celtic side can be trusted to finish that important chance.

Forster deserves more chances for England

The World Cup in Brazil is just eight months away and Roy Hodgson is already facing his first selection dilemma. With Joe Hart’s position at Manchester City under question, so too is the question of England’s number one. Hart has been first-choice for the previous two managers but with Manuel Pellegrini favouring Costel Pantilimon, Hodgson risks undermining the ‘pick-on-form’ policy that drives the performances of his players, if he continues with an unpicked Hart. Behind Hart, there is not exactly a queue of tournament-able goalkeepers to choose from, especially with Foster injured. Thankfully for Hodgson, Fraser Forster continues to impress north of the border. The 6ft 5ins Englishman moved to the Glasgow giants from Newcastle in 2010 and has impressed ever since. So much so that he earned his first start for England in this month’s friendly defeat to Chile, where he could do nothing to stop either of the goals. Unfortunately for Forster, ignorance and a sub-standard league threaten to scupper his hopes of ever becoming England’s No1. Though he’s produced man-of-the-match performances against the likes of Barcelona, it is too easy for English fans to dismiss the ‘keeper because he doesn’t play in the Premier League. Though he conceded three, Forster impressed against some of Europe’s best players and it must grate him and Celtic fans alike that his abilities are patronised in view of the quality of their weekly opponents. He has shown that he is good enough and with Hart out of the side and out of form, deserves his chance in the England side.

The Champions League is a lesser competition without the Bhoys

There’s an argument that the group stages of the Champions League are so formatted that the outcome is inevitable. That with seeding and a round of six fixtures, the same teams will always progress to the last 16. So much so, that by round five and six of the group stages, you see clubs resting some of the star names that the competition is supposed to be about. What a revelation then that there’s Celtic. Many clubs claim to have special Champions League nights but no claims are truer than a night under the floodlights of Celtic Park. Full to its 60,000 capacity, Parkhead is a test for any European side and Lennon’s side have shown in the last decade that they can be a match for anyone, no matter their domestic form. Since Neil Lennon assumed the Parkhead helm in 2010 he has gained admirers for Celtic’s European exploits. The decline of the SPL has been well noted since Rangers’ administration, but what it has provided is the opportunity for Celtic to focus on the Champions League. With the ability to rest players both before and after a Champions League game in the knowledge that the outcome of their season will likely remain untainted, the Bhoys have prospered against some of Europe’s biggest sides and shown that they can compete. The SPL is by no means a hugely competitive league but not many Celtic fans claim otherwise. What can’t be said, in light of disparaging claims about their league, is that this Celtic side doesn’t deserve its place in Europe’s elite competition.

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