Celtic sustained their heaviest ever home European defeat as Neymar led the way for Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) in the Champions League group stage opener on Tuesday night.
Their 5-0 thrashing left players – who were not used to getting beat – speechless, and although they showed fight in the second half, it wasn’t enough against the French giants.
But that isn’t to say they don’t have what it takes to go up against German champions Bayern Munich and Belgium champions Anderlecht.
It was a tough lesson for The Bhoys, but for them the Champions League is all about learning and finding ways to improve.
So what can Celtic learn from PSG?
The formation change didn’t work
Celtic’s best performance was when they beat Astana 5-0 at Celtic Park – their system appeared to be flawless.
But on Tuesday, Brendan Rodgers moved Celtic from the usual 4-2-3-1 formation to 4-1-4-1, which sometimes looked like a flat five in the middle.
It was midfield that suffered most from the change. Scott Brown is a natural defensive midfielder, so sitting in front of the back four would have seemed like the obvious position for him.
However, PSG were not playing a normal attacking midfielder, with Adrien Rabiot being the most advanced and having a tendency to go out wide. This left Brown without an obvious opponent to mark.
This meant that he often stepped out of his position, creating further gaps behind him. PSG exploited those gaps, contributing to their second goal.
Olivier Ntcham was caught in a similar predicament – he was too busy trying to support the attack in the opener.
Not to mention Tom Rogic was further back than where he would normally be expected to be.
Perhaps if Rodgers had situated Ntcham and Brown in front of defence as an extra layer of protection and placed Rogic in the attacking midfield, then fewer gaps would have been created for PSG to exploit.
Having Rogic further forward would have meant that he could have helped out Leigh Griffiths, who seemed to be alone up front.
Anthony Ralston wasn’t ready
No one can say that Anthony Ralston doesn’t have what it takes to be a top defender – he’s determined, he doesn’t give up, he’s a fighter and he’s committed.
At only 18-years-old, he shows he has the ability to be great, but Tuesday night wasn’t the game for him.
Ralston needed more experience before facing the Parisian champions. Rabiot did a great job anticipating Ralston’s every move and using it against him – which he did to get past him and pass the ball to Neymar, scoring their first goal.
His lack of experience meant that at times he was caught a little flat-footed, as was the case with PSG’s fourth goal where the ball got past him, striking Mikael Lustig and rolling into the net.
Ralston is a strong player and a good defender for Celtic, but the Champions League opener was not the best place for him to showcase his talents. Perhaps he would have been better suited to play a Premier League game.
Recruiting another centre-back isn’t the answer
Many have speculated that Celtic’s inability to sign another centre-back hindered their chances of winning against PSG. However taking on another centre-back wouldn’t have made much difference to Tuesday night’s game.
Although it would have better for Celtic if Lustig played in his natural right-back position, it would still have been a mammoth task for Celtic’s defence, as proved by Jozo Simunovic. Simunovic is arguably the best centre-back at the club, and even he was thrown by the PSG attack.
It’s easy to say Celtic can get a better defender than Simunovic, but finding a player of his talent – which is obvious in Celtic’s games against Astana and Rosenborg – within wages budget would be near impossible, and even if they used all their defenders on Tuesday night, it wouldn’t have stopped PSG.
Don’t get awestruck by bigger clubs
It’s clear Celtic were awestruck by PSG; similarly to when they lost 7-0 to Barcelona in last season’s Champions League group stage.
Although Lionel Messi and his team played incredibly well in that game last season, there were many times where Celtic sat back and admired their opponents, letting them get through untouched.
This is, again, what happened in Tuesday’s match.
The Hoops showed their big-name opponents too much respect, especially in the first half. They seemed to be stuck between trying to press high and wondering whether to stay back, and ended up being too passive.
Although they improved a little in the second half, the damage was already done.
Celtic should be proud of their performance against PSG, who are one of the toughest teams in European football. However, learning from this match with serve them well in their five remaining Champions League games.