Since the euphoria of breath-taking, logic-defying Champions League encounter between Celtic and Manchester City, it seems that The Citizens have been seriously affected and shaken, proceeding to get beat by Tottenham Hotspur after they had a 100% start to the season.
In the Champions League group game at Celtic Park, City were behind three times before managing to salvage a 3-3 draw in what was an impressive display by the Scottish champions. But when you really look at it, Brendan Rodgers’s approach was hardly revolutionary. He wanted to take the game to City, hassle them and disrupt their flow before punching holes through the middle and along the flanks.
The impressive bit came from Celtic’s ability to turn this theory into practice and pull it off with a fine point. In doing so it not only proved they are super fit, able to focus fiercely for long periods and suggest that Rodgers has an extra edge, but it also made them the first side not to be beaten by City this season. It ended their run of consecutive victories at ten.
And it is clear that City let this get the better of them, affecting how the team have played since.
On Sunday, Spurs pulled off a shock 2-0 over Pep Guardiola’s Man City, which closed the gap over the Premier League leaders to just one point. City must have expected to have their character tested again, knowing that Mauricio Pochettino loves to play a frantic press. However, it seems as though they never saw a Spurs win coming.
Tottenham made their game look both hard and easy. Hard because pressing high up the pitch with the concentration and intensity with which Pochettino’s men showed requires tremendous energy – both mentally and physically. Easy because their game plan was staggeringly effective in it’s simplicity.
When you really look at it, that is what both Celtic and Tottenham had in common: their game plans weren’t overly complicated and full of tricks, they weren’t revolutionary – their strength in it came from being simple.
Celtic’s execution of Rodger’s game plan against Man City is a blueprint of how to stymie Guardiola’s team, and now only shows other teams and rivals how to properly play, but also gives them hope. One of the main things that the Scottish outfit proved to throw them off was the one thing that every other team playing against city failed to do: score first. Because this then poses a question of Guardiola’s men and turns City on their heels.
In Celtic Park that night, there was very little sign of Man City’s full-backs coming inside to be extra men in midfield when City moved forward and this ploy is what has posed new problems for opponents this season. Preventing this meant another victory for Celtic, allowing them to claim even more of a win. If you consider the largely contrasting costs of each squad and the superior Champions League pedigree of Guardiola over Rodgers.
Using similar tactics to the Hoops, a telling moment for Spurs came when Wanyama flattened Fernandinho in winning the ball, in a tackle that lead to the Lilywhites’ opening goal of their 2-0 win. By scoring first, they threw Man City off their game. This is not to blacken Man City. They will pick a path through other, different teams who are less mobile, less physical or less quick with the press. But, they were out played on Sunday by Spurs and before that by Celtic.
But what Celtic have done here is provided a blueprint and showed the way for rival teams to play them now.