Football Features

“They’ll believe they can beat anyone” – Five things learned as Celtic secure dramatic Europa League qualification in Rome

By Ollie Thomas

Published: 20:21, 7 November 2019

Rome = conquered.

Had you told Celtic two weeks ago that their win against Lazio in Glasgow would be rivalled, if not bettered, a fortnight later, they would have struggled to believe you. But, sometimes, lightning strikes twice.

Once again, Lennon’s team fell behind early and, once again, they came back to secure a victory that those who made the trip to mainland Europe will remember for a very long time.

James Forrest drew them level before Olivier Ntcham snatched a late and entirely deserved winner to secure a first-ever win in Italy and qualification to the last 32 of this season’s Europa League.

Here are five things we learned from this remarkably night in Rome.

Immobile needs help

Ciro Immobile has been in fine goal-scoring form this season. His opener against Celtic was his 15th of the season – only the sensational Robert Lewandowski has scored more goals than the Italian across Europe this season.

Once again, he was the man who provided the goods in Rome on Thursday and, once again, he was the only player on his team who offered any kind of attacking threat. Luis Alberto came on and added some flair, but it was too little too late.

The difference in ability between Immobile and his strike partner Felipe Caicedo was glaringly obvious. Immobile spent the vast majority of the game looking to the heavens as Caicedo (and his teammates) repeatedly wasted possession.

There is no doubt that Immobile is a striker worthy of Champions League football. Whether the rest of the Lazio side are is certainly up for debate.

Celtic have found a gem – and rediscovered another

When Celtic made Christopher Jullien their second most expensive player of all time in the summer, few would have expected him to have the impact that he has had.

He was absolutely colossal at the Stadio Olimpico, making a whopping 12 clearances – one of which was goal-saving in the first half, sparing Fraser Forster’s blushes.

Forster looked shaky in the first half but it was he who ultimately kept Celtic on course to gain this historic victory in Italy. Two excellent saves to deny Luis Alberto and Valon Berisha in the final 10 minutes kept Lazio at bay and meant that Celtic could return to Scotland having done the double against the favourites to win the group.

Lennon’s midfield outperform Lazio all-stars

Few would have expected the likes of Marco Parolo and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic to be nullified by the midfield of Celtic, but that’s exactly what happened.

To a man, Neil Lennon’s men were outstanding. Scott Brown put in a classic display in the holding role, whilst Ryan Christie looked the most gifted player on the pitch at times. Mohamed Elyounoussi gave everything to support Odsonne Edouard upfront and provided a wonderful assist for James Forrest to equalise.

It should have been no surprise that Olivier Ntcham, a late substitute in midfield, was the man who secured one of the most famous victories in Celtic’s history. It was reminiscent of the rest of the game.

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Lazio disappoint… again

Lazio came into this vital clash off the back of an impressive comeback win at the San Siro on Sunday night.

There is no doubt that Lazio will have expected to win Group E but they find themselves with a massive mountain to climb to even qualify for the last 32. The performance tonight shows that the defeat in Scotland two weeks ago was not just a blip.

They flattered to deceive at both ends of the pitch: wasting the few chances they were able to create whilst gifting Celtic far too many themselves. Ntcham’s historic late winner was entirely of Lazio’s own doing, needlessly giving the ball away and creating a three on two in their own defensive third.

Milinkovic-Savic was anonymous and the decision to leave Luis Alberto out appears even more baffling given how the game turned out.

They can still qualify, but their hopes are hanging by a thread.

Celtic’s heart will take them far

On paper, Lazio are a superior team to Celtic. But the Scottish champions’ desire and fight made them deserved winners once again on Thursday evening.

To come back from a goal down and beat Lazio twice should be a massive warning sign to the other sides who hope to qualify for the last 32. Celtic will believe that they can beat anyone they face.

8,000 fans flocked from Glasgow to Rome and the passion the supporters possess is echoed by the 11 men who represent them on the pitch. With Neil Lennon at the helm again, you get the impression that there may be a few more famous Thursday nights this season yet.