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Three things learnt from Celtic’s second-leg 4-3 defeat against FC Astana

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Celtic

Having thrashed FC Astana 5-0 during the first leg of their final Champions League play-off, Celtic could have been forgiven for looking forward to an easy night as they travelled to Kazakhstan for the return encounter.

Instead, the Hoops endured a harrowing night in hot and humid conditions, falling 4-1 behind with more than 20 minutes to go as Astana punished a series of individual errors. Fortunately, Brendan Rodgers’ men recovered to score two further goals and seal their place in the Champions League proper for the second consecutive season.

So what did we learn from Celtic’s trip to Kazakhstan? Here are three key talking points:

Celtic still lack Champions League pedigree

Celtic have not lost in 52 domestic games, a run that included an unbeaten season and a clean sweep of trophies during Rodgers’ first year in charge.

Conversely, they did not win any of their six Champions League group matches last season, creating a stark contrast with their domestic form and highlighting the lack of pedigree afflicting Celtic on the European stage.

While they may have beaten FC Astana over two legs and scored eight goals in the process, their performance in Kazakhstan proved they require much improvement if they are to be competitive in the Champions League. They certainly need to be more focused and compact in defence, while showcasing greater composure on the ball when they are away from home.

Rodgers may need to strengthen his defence

In truth, the sight of midfielder Nir Bitton lining up in defence for Celtic should have been a cause for concern, even allowing for Celtic’s healthy lead heading into the second leg.

Bitton, who was caught out positionally on numerous occasions and allowed Patrick Twumasi past him far too easily for Astana’s fourth goal of the night, was filling in for injured duo Dedryck Boyata and Erik Sviatchenko (the latter has also been linked with a move to FC Copenhagen in The Times). With Jozo Simunovic also absent, the Hoops looked short of experience at the back and were run ragged in the second half.

This is an area where Rodgers may well look to strengthen before the end of the summer transfer window, particularly of Sviatchenko is allowed to move on. A player with Champions League experience would also be a huge boon, especially as the club look to progress and compete more aggressively in Europe.

Olivier Ntcham is the real deal for Celtic

When French starlet Olivier Ntcham joined Celtic from Manchester City for around £4.5 million during the summer, those in the know suggested that the Hoops had signed a top international talent. Ntcham certainly impressed during the first leg against Astana, while the powerful midfielder made a telling contribution in Kazakhstan and was arguably Celtic’s classiest performer on a challenging night.

The youngster showed tremendous drive and composure as he strode forward from deep against a tiring Astana side, before firing home a nerve-settling second goal for Celtic with 10 minutes to go.

He certainly delivered when it mattered the most, which is a trait shared by all high quality players. Ntcham undoubtedly looks like the real deal for the Hoops, and along with Kieran Tierney he offers genuine hope that Celtic can acquit themselves well and make a positive impression in the Champions League this season.

I am a passionate sports fan and football writer from the UK, with particular knowledge of the English Premier League.

Celtic

Celtic linked with Keiren Westwood, who snubbed Brendan Rodgers in 2015

The Sheffield Wednesday stopper rejected a move to Liverpool back in January 2015.

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Reports today are suggesting that Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Keiren Westwood could be on his way out of Hillsborough. The Sun reports that the Owls could sell the keeper this summer after an injury-ravaged campaign. The 33-year-old has not played since December and will not play again this season because of a groin strain.

Three teams have been mentioned as interested in his services and one of them will not come as a surprise. Southampton and Leeds United are chasing him in England, whilst in Scotland, it is Celtic who are being linked with a move for the experienced goalkeeper.

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has been here for before.

(Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Back in January 2015, the Celtic boss was in charge at Liverpool. He had become increasingly frustrated with the performances of Simon Mignolet so decided it was time for a change. That change was to bring in Westwood.

The then 30-year-old stopper had been in fine form for Wednesday that season. Liverpool, therefore, wanted to take him to Anfield to try and improve the goalkeeper position.

But he turned the move down. As reported by The Mirror the Irishman rejected the move as he was happy with Wednesday, stating:

“They gave me the chance to kick-start my career again, and I’m really happy to be here.”

(Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

Now Rodgers might finally have the chance to get his man.

The Republic of Ireland international would surely relish the chance to join Celtic. The Bhoys also need a new keeper, with Dorus De Vries clearly not up to the task of replacing Craig Gordon when the number one is injured. Scott Bain is currently between the sticks, but only on loan, so Westwood would be a shrewd acquisition.

Time will tell if Rodgers is left disappointed yet again.

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Daniel Sturridge is the bold transfer target Celtic must target this summer

The Liverpool-owned striker has had a torrid time and a fresh start with Celtic could be perfect remedy.

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It has been another season to forget for Daniel Sturridge. The England striker found himself out of favour at Liverpool after a string of injury-ravaged campaigns. Jurgen Klopp instead used him as a bit-part player. Therefore, in hope of a late surge toward the England World Cup squad, Sturridge headed out on loan in January. He went to aid the relegation fight at West Brom. Unfortunately, lady luck is not kind to the Liverpool-owned player.

Sturridge played just three times for the Baggies before picking up a hamstring injury.

In the summer he needs a fresh start and Scottish giants Celtic are the perfect club to give him just that.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 01: Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool celebrates scoring the opening goal with Manager Brendan Rodgers during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on September 01, 2013 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Celtic have had it all their own way in recent years. This season it seems Brendan Rodgers will again guide his side to the Scottish Premiership title. However, next term looks like it is going to be a far greater challenge for the Bhoys.

Rangers look resurgent, Aberdeen are strong, Hearts have an exciting group of young players whilst Neil Lennon and Steve Clarke are doing great jobs at Hibernian and Kilmarnock.

Celtic need to stamp their authority as the number one team in Scotland in the transfer market this summer, especially with concerns over the future of Tom Rogic and Scott Sinclair.

One year ago the idea of signing Sturridge seemed fanciful for Celtic. Now it is a deal that really could happen.

Brendan Rodgers is a huge advocate for the forward. He knew him from his time at Chelsea and turned him into a goal-machine during their time at Liverpool.

during the Premier League match between Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion at Etihad Stadium on January 31, 2018 in Manchester, England.

Sturridge is a massive name and, when fit, one of the best strikers in Europe. Celtic are a massive club, despite what football fans south of the border might like to make out.

Sturridge would surely jump at the chance to play for a club in the Champions League with the prestige that the Bhoys carry. Such an opportunity would surely make him consider a wage-cut, whilst Celtic would also want some assurances in any deal of cover if injury troubles persisted in Glasgow.

In the past Celtic have lured the likes of Roy Keane, Craig Bellamy and Robbie Keane to Parkhead when not many thought they could. This summer Rodgers should be bold and send out a message by bringing Sturridge to Glasgow.

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£2m Celtic target in 2016, Wout Weghorst is now a Dutch international

The AZ Alkmaar striker made his international debut this week.

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In January of 2016 Celtic identified the striker target they wanted to bring in to counteract the lack of impact of summer arrival Nadir Ciftci. The player in question was Heracles Almelo striker Wout Weghorst, with The Scotsman suggesting he could be a Celtic player for a fee of £2 million.

A towering figure at 6ft 4ins tall Weghorst was in good form with the Eredivisie club and Celtic’s interest looked promising.

However, the Dutchman did not head to Glasgow and in the summer headed to Dutch rivals AZ Alkmaar as a replacement for the Tottenham Hotspur-bound Vincent Janssen.

ALKMAAR, NETHERLANDS – MARCH 02: Team mate, Wout Weghorst runs towards Goalkeeper, Tim Krul of AZ Alkmaar as he celebratres saving the final penalty in the shoot out to win the Dutch KNVB Cup Semi-final match between AZ Alkmaar and SC Cambuur held at AFAS Stadion on March 2, 2017 in Alkmaar, Netherlands. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

It is fair to say Celtic are now regretting not signing the player. Weghorst has been in fantastic form since joining AZ. Last season he found the back of the net on 18 occasions and this season has been even more impressive for the 24-year-old.

Weghorst has scored 22 goals for AZ this season and that form has paid off with the ultimate accolade. With Janssen injured, Weghorst received his first call-up to the Netherlands national team. New manager Ronald Koeman went on to hand him his debut in the 1-0 loss against England in the week.

That January, when Celtic failed to secure a deal for Weghorst they did sign Colin Kazim-Richards who, along with Carlton Cole, did not fill any sort of striker void.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – MARCH 06: Colin Kazim-Richards of Celtic shoots at goal during the William Hill Scottish Cup Quarter Final match between Celtic and Greenock Morton at Celtic Park Stadium on March 6, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images)

Since then Celtic have done better in the transfer market. Scott Sinclair has added goals from attacking midfield whilst Moussa Dembele is a top talent.

But Weghorst is a different beast to both players and would have been an excellent asset for Celtic.

Now he is playing at international level for the Netherlands, Celtic would find it hard to convince the striker into a Parkhead switch.

If only the Bhoys could have secured his signature when they had the chance.

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