Celtic's change of shape falls just short against Milan - but it's way forward
Celtic may have fallen short of a dramatic comeback against Milan last night.
Ultimately Mohamed Elyounoussi’s 76th minute glancing header from a Ryan Christie corner was incidental with an added time strike from Jens Petter Hauge condemning them to a 3-1 defeat. Yet, their second-half display as they attempted to recover a two-goal deficit - save for the Norwegian sub squeezing the ball in as Shane Duffy and Vasilis Barkas became entangled - may have borne witness one telling comeback. Celtic turned the flow of this tie because Neil Lennon turned away from 3-5-2 and reverted to 4-2-3-1.
Maybe it is too simplistic to see the complete turnaround in the encounter as a change of shape, which meant Leigh Griffiths giving way for Elyounoussi and Ryan Christie coming on for Stephen Welsh. Yet it is undeniable that the home side did not look so soft-centred across the second 45 minutes - their undoing in the first period. Lennon certainly could not be accused of letting a desperate situation drift. As he was in Saturday’s derby defeat. He also withdrew his captain Scott Brown after the hour. Just about the time that a seemingly sitting pretty Milan hauled off a completely anonymous Zlatan Ibrahimovic. For the closing stages, Celtic forced Milan to defend their box. They were able to do that in a manner their opponents could not in a curious first period.
A first start for Griffiths in seven months, and a first partnership with Albian Ajeti from the opening whistle, was a sign that Lennon would look for more upfront that was produced against Rangers. True of Celtic in all departments after Lennon conceded his team were too “passive”. Exhibiting bite and drive from the off, it was patent that they were seeking to atone for the anodyne nature of their derby loss.
Within five minutes they contrived what had eluded them for 90 minutes at the weekend: a shot on target. An Ajeti snapshot from the edge of the area was blocked by Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli - amid handball claims - before an Olivier Ntcham drive was comfortably held by keeper Gianlugi Donnarumma. The bright start was undone by the vulnerability that Celtic seem to be developing to balls hoisted into the box. From a similar position on the left Rangers free-kick for their first goal was delivered, Samuel Castillejo launched a cross that Rade Krunic got between Duffy and Welsh to head wide of Barkas.
Celtic’s confidence then began to fray, and as Milan grew into the encounter they started to put themselves under pressure was misplaced passes. They lived dangerously before Milan’s killer second just before the interval. A move that broke down left Celtic’s stretched as Theo Hernandez powered down the left before cutting a ball inside that found Brahim Diaz able to sidestep Duffy and Callum McGregor before drilling in. The avoidance of a pasting from then will offer a certain relief.
Celtic: Barkas; Frimpong, Welsh (Elyounoussi 46), Duffy, Ajer, Laxalt (Taylor 77); Ntcham, Brown (Rogic 64), McGregor; Ajeti (Klimala 77), Griffiths (Christie 46).
AC Milan: Donnarumma; Dalot, Romagnoli, Kjaer, Theo Hernandez; Krunic, Tonali, Kessie (Bennacer 66); Castillejo (Saelemaekers 79), Ibrahimovic (Leao 66), Brahim Diaz (Hauge 79).
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