Celtic’s seven-year wait for a Champions League victory is over, as Brendan Rodgers’ side defeated Eredivisie holders Feyenoord 2-1 at Celtic Park on Matchday Six.

In what has been a largely dismal European campaign in terms of results, Celtic managed to get the last laugh, as goals from Luis Palma and Gustaf Lagerbielke secured a much-needed win in the competition. Although the result did not change the fact that Celtic were eliminated beyond this game, the fighting spirit shown by the players to rally – especially after Yankuba Minteh’s equaliser – will please the manager going into a tough run of domestic fixtures.

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In what was an unexpectedly cagey game, Celtic took the lead after Liam Scales was brought down in the box following a corner. Palma stepped up and put the resulting penalty down the middle of Justin Bijlow’s goal, giving the home side a well-deserved advantage going into half-time.

Celtic were under the cosh for large portions of the second half, with Feyenoord looking for a way back into proceedings. They would make the breakthrough 10 minutes from time, as Minteh sneaked in at the back-post to get back on terms. This would not be the final goal of the game, however, as sublime work from Matt O’Riley out wide presented Lagerbielke with a tap-in just before added time. Celtic in turn would hang on and gain their first home Champions League win since 2013’s 2-1 victory over fellow Dutch side Ajax.

Celtic made a few changes from the team that was beaten 2-1 by Kilmarnock last Sunday. Nat Phillips was replaced in the team by Stephen Welsh, who made his first appearance since August following an injury sustained in training. Elsewhere, Kyogo Furuhashi was given the opportunity to lead the line in place of Oh Hyeon-gyu. It was a third straight start for Mikey Johnston on the right wing, whilst Tomoki Iwata was preferred to Paulo Bernardo or David Turnbull in the midfield, allowing Callum McGregor to roam further forward. Greg Taylor and Alistair Johnston occupied their usual full-back roles respectively on the left and right-hand sides.

Using both StatsBomb and Wyscout, The Celtic Way brings you a match report like no other…

The match

Going by the race chart on StatsBomb, it was a fairly even game that could have gone either way. Looking at the percentages of victory relating to xG, Celtic had a 40 per cent chance of picking up all three points with the chances made by the home team, with an away win for Feyenoord the next most likely at 34 per cent. A draw, therefore, was calculated at 26 per cent.

Despite both teams having early chances in the game through Johnston and Quenten (twin brother of Aresnal’s Jurrien) Timber, Celtic would fashion the bigger chances at the beginning of this game, the first one falling to O’Riley. The Denmark international forced a save out of the goalkeeper Bijlow, with McGregor doing the same just two minutes later (0.21 combined xG). Feyenoord’s first big chance would come from their dangerman Santiago Gimenez, whose shot was saved by Joe Hart, who was impressive on the night. (0.15 xG). Following a blocked shot from Kyogo, Celtic would have a massive chance to take the lead from the spot just three minutes later.

After being warned twice by the referee, Feyenoord midfielder Ramiz Zerrouki continued to grapple with Scales at a corner and was punished by giving away a penalty, much to the Algerian’s displeasure. Celtic’s new penalty taker Palma stepped up and struck the ball past the Feyenoord goalkeeper, with the Honduran electing to go straight down the middle in terms of placement (0.78 xG – 0.88 PSxG).

This was to be Celtic’s last chance of the half, as Arne Slot’s side looked to turn the screw in the game in the form of an equaliser. Gimenez got one of the best of these six chances, though the Mexican forward’s strike was bettered by the save of the veteran Hart (0.31 xG). Lutsharel Geertruida’s opportunity in first-half added time was the pick of the bunch, as his strike hit the far post, with this shot scoring an xG of 0.37 in the process. Celtic were riding their luck but got in at the break ahead.

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Following the restart, Celtic had the first three opportunities of the second half, in what was a positive early showing after being under the cosh beforehand. The best of these came to goalscorer Palma, who had his shot saved by Bijlow. Taylor and McGregor had the other two chances in this period (0.16 combined xG). Following a couple of half-chances by Feyenoord, substitute Oh would get one of Celtic’s final attacks before their second period of sustained Feyenoord pressure, with the South Korean’s shot going wide of the target (0.15 xG).

As mentioned, what followed was sustained pressure from Slot’s side, which led to the equaliser. Another six chances would come the way of Feyenoord’s attackers, with the second leading to a goal from Minteh. Despite having a good game otherwise, right-back Johnston will be disappointed at losing his man for this strike. The ball is worked out wide, which is then crossed to the edge of the box where Minteh is situated. The attacker takes a touch and strikes the ball past Hart in goal. A good finish, and perhaps what Feyenoord deserved, given the way the game was headed. (0.17 xG – 0.31 PSxG). Celtic would face another four chances before getting another opportunity of their own, the best of those again coming from Gimenez, which prompted a sensational block from Scales to top what looked like a certain goal (0.37 xG).

Admittedly, Celtic this season have played better in Europe and not got maximum points, but last night was different. Rodgers’ side rallied and got their reward. Following a long-range strike from McGregor which hit the bar (0.02 xG), Celtic would take the lead through a very unexpected source. Lagerbielke, a second-half substitute, profited from brilliant work from O’Riley, who had beaten his marker and delivered an inch-perfect cross into the Feyenoord box. At 0.60 rising to 0.97 in PSxG, the Sweden international could not afford to miss this opportunity, which he thankfully put away with ease. A big moment for the defender, and another highlight to add to the growing reel of O’Riley this campaign.

Despite Feyenoord having three late chances – the best one falling to Ayase Ueda – their 0.28 xG did not manage to result in a second equaliser, and Celtic held on to end their nightmare run in the Champions League.

Magic Matt

Using Wyscout match stills, we can see how the winning goal was manufactured by Celtic. Although many will speak about what O’Riley does when the ball is distributed to him, Johnston’s cross-field ball to the midfielder is right on the money. As shown on the still, O’Riley is pleading with his right-back to gift him the ball, and the Canada stalwart is only too happy to oblige. Celtic smell blood here and are going to punish Feyenoord for not taking their subsequent chances after equalising.

The ball is an accurate one and finds Celtic’s star man, who takes an exquisite first touch, bamboozling Gimenez, who is a long way from his usual forward berth. Fortuitous or deliberate, O’Riley manages to nutmeg the attacker, and now has space to float in a ball into the danger area.

What happens next is a bit of brilliance by the Dane, whose valuation will have increased after another impressive European performance. Using the side of his foot, he delivers a perfectly weighted cross into the box, completely rendering Bijlow a spectator in his own area. Thanks to the brilliance of Celtic’s number 33, Lagerbielke was there in the box to finish off a well-worked Celtic move. In truth, the Swede will not score an easier goal in his whole career, but credit must go to him for being at the right place at the right time.

This was one of O’Riley’s four key passes during the game, the highest for both teams at a combined xG of 0.82. The next closest to him was Johnston (Mikey), who had two at a lower xG of 0.12, with Taylor hitting the same total.

Sticking to the theme of all things O’Riley, he was also Celtic’s best performer concerning OBV (on ball value, of which a definition can be read here). Looking at both the first and second-half diagrams, he was Celtic’s sole consistent performer in this metric, posting above-average totals for both halves. His 0.43 for 22 passes in the game was the highest for both teams, in what was another excellent showing for Celtic’s prized asset.

Unsurprisingly, he led the team in pressures, too, as shown in his individual heat map above. With 30 in total, the midfielder was everywhere last night, putting in the hard yards both offensively and defensively on the biggest stage, as he also led both teams for counterpressures with seven to his name. Again, this is the sort of breakout performance that will have the transfer vultures swirling, with the club signing him up to a new deal being a stroke of genius by the much-maligned board.

The defence steps up

Celtic’s back-line has taken a bit of a verbal battering over the past couple of days, particularly concerning the likes of Nat Phillips and Taylor. Only one started last night, as Welsh returned following a lengthy injury layoff.

This was a mammoth performance under the circumstances by both the former and Scales, who managed to keep the dangerous Gimenez relatively quiet in proceedings. Between them both and the substitute Lagerbielke, they had a combined nine tackles and interception, as well as 13 clearances.

Despite having a mixed game, Taylor got stuck in, managing four tackles and interceptions and another four clearances. Surprisingly, Celtic’s left winger had six total tackles and interceptions, a team-high total.

The future

This has to be the benchmark now concerning Celtic in Europe. Dead rubber or not, Rodgers and his side have ended that dismal record in Europe. Despite not playing at their best throughout the game, they found a way to get the result they were looking for, and what a time to get it. This could be the much-needed shot in the arm that they were looking for from Europe, and in turn, it should be the motivation they need to get back to what they do best, which is winning games of football. The Kilmarnock game feels like a long time ago, as Celtic managed to get back to winning form in the best possible way.

With the format changing in Europe – both in the Champions League and below – it should allow for Celtic to grow as a team on the highest stage. With an added two games coming their way if they qualify for European competition, they should be able to adapt better to the pressures and demands of continental football in the process.

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Celtic finished their European campaign with four points, two more than what they managed under Ange Postecoglou last season. With good results against both Atletico Madrid and Feyenoord at home - as well as running Lazio close in the same stadium – there are certainly some signs of improvement. Postecoglou's side only managed draws over Shakhtar Donetsk, so there have been some steps made in the right direction on this front. 

For now, though, all eyes are on domestic football as the team gets ready for Hearts on Saturday. Here’s hoping that the euphoria of Lagerbielke’s late winner can spur the team on to continued success in the Scottish Premiership. Who knows, it may even be the turning point of the whole season for Rodgers and his players going forward.