Celtic’s 5-0 drubbing at home to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Tuesday highlighted the massive gulf between the elite teams and the rest of Europe.
Brendan Rodgers said his Celtic side played like “under-12s” for a spell in the first half, but it’s fair to say his own team selection was like a Football Manager game gone wrong.
All online UK bookmakers had Paris Saint-Germain as long odds-on favourites to win in Glasgow, yet Rodgers set his team up as if they were facing a pub side – or an under-12s team.
Rodgers’ management motto is “without fear”, but facing the likes of PSG should always be treated with some element of trepidation instead of a chance to practice offensive tactics such as Darren’s devastating 4-1-2-3
With centre-backs Erik Sviatchenko and Dedryck Boyata unavailable, Rodgers thrust promising full-back Anthony Ralston into the spotlight.
The 18-year-old is viewed by many people as a star of the future, but there’s a vast deal of difference between looking handy in the Scottish Premiership and going head-to-head with the world’s most expensive player.
With right-back Mikael Lustig pushed inside into a centre-back role, Ralston endured a torrid night against Neymar as the forward and his teammates ran riot.
Neymar, Edison Cavani and Kylian Mbappe led the market to score the first goal, and although the Brazilian won that particular race the other pair also hit the target on the night.
Rodgers appears to have a mental block when it comes to recognising opposition strengths, falling into the same trap as many Football Manager players who become obsessed with a particular formation or style of play.
The Celtic boss effectively threw Ralston under a bus on Tuesday, and it didn’t end well. All of which brings us nicely to “parking the bus”.
The likes of Jose Mourinho and Diego Simeone have turned the tactic into something of an art form, and it’s one that Rodgers might want to give consideration to in the future.
Rodgers set up with a 4-2-3-1 formation against PSG, effectively giving them an open invite to deliver a big result for correct score punters. With the personnel he had available, a 5-4-1 set-up would have been a more prudent route to take and given people plenty to ponder ahead of the game.
By packing his defence, Rodgers would have given his team a better chance of absorbing the pressure and potentially helped Ralston cope with Neymar’s threat.
A deep-lying midfield would have added to Celtic’s ability to fend off PSG. By employing pace in the wide areas, the Hoops would still have an outlet when it came to counter-attacking.
Celtic’s line-up could have been as follows: Craig Gordon; Antony Ralston, Mikael Lustig, Jozo Simunovic, Kristoffer Ajer, Kieran Tierney; James Forrest, Scott Brown, Nir Britton, Scott Sinclair; Leigh Griffiths.
PSG enjoyed 69% of the possession in Tuesday’s game and while it’s likely that would increase against a 5-4-1 formation, the system is better structured to deal with the pressure.
Ralston would have enjoyed more support in his tussle with Neymar, with Lustig able to track across safe in the knowledge that Simunovic, Ajer and Tierney were covering him.
Further forward, Brown and Britton would provide a shield in front of the defence, while Forrest and Sinclair have the pace and experience to fulfil both their attacking and defensive duties in the wide areas.
Griffiths would plough a lone furrow up front, but could potentially become more likely to deliver in the first goalscorer betting as Celtic would be relying solely on the counter-attack as PSG pressed forward.
With the likes of Odsonne Edouard, Tom Rogic and Patrick Roberts on the bench to call upon later in the game, Celtic would retain a realistic chance of upsetting the odds.
Rodgers’ “without fear” approach left Celtic brutally exposed against a team fancied by many to win this season’s Champions League.
It’s not pretty, but adopting a more pragmatic stance by parking the bus has been known to work on Football Manager and could have seen Celtic overcome their odds of 10/1 on Tuesday.