1. Celtic need some new signings and fast
Arsenal’s current transfer market woes swelled newspaper column inches over the past fortnight but last night’s humiliating 2-0 defeat in Kazakhstan underlined a similar need for Scottish Premier League champions Celtic’s to splash the cash.
Despite adapting well to the plastic playing surface, enjoying 66% possession and creating no less than 17 goal-scoring opportunities, Neil Lennon ended up on the losing side to the lowest ranked team left in the Champions League play-offs.
The sale of two of last season’s most influential players in Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper coupled with the inability of new arrivals Virgil Van Dijk, Derk Boerrigter and Steven Mouyokolo to make an instant impact means Celtic have it all to do in the second leg.
Last night’s defeat cemented the view that Lennon needs to bring in more experienced (and possibly expensive) new signings rather than ‘uncut diamonds’ which has been Celtic’s transfer policy in recent windows.
2. There is a new Shakhter in town
FC Shakhter Karagandy added to their growing reputation as this season’s Champions League surprise package with a deserved 2-0 first-leg win over Celtic.
The Kazakhstanis grabbed all the early qualifying round headlines after knocking out BATE Borisov (last season’s surprise package) and Albanian league champions KS Skenderbeu to setup their two-legged play-off meeting with Neil Lennon’s side.
Coach Viktor Kumykov deployed a 5-4-1 formation on Tuesday evening with Sergei Khizhnichenko at the apex of Shakhter’s attack and although they rode their luck at times, the tactic stifled Celtic’s miss-firing strikers and took advantage of some poor defending to take a merited 2-0 lead back to Celtic Park.
Shakhter Karagandy are already guaranteed a Europa League berth having reached the final Champions League play-off round but the Kazakhstan champions of the past two seasons now have every chance of making the lucrative group phase following a terrific run in the early stages of the competition.
3. Real Sociedad catch Lyon cold
Real Sociedad’s shock 2-0 defeat of perennial Champions League qualifiers Olympique Lyonnais will long be remembered for the two world class goals that secured the Basque’s famous win on French soil.
Antoine Griezmann’s acrobatic scissors-kick that opened the scoring after 17 minutes drew comparisons to Wayne Rooney’s famous effort for Manchester United and set the stage for a shock Sociedad victory.
Haris Seferovic’s match-winning effort later in the tie was just as spectacular but Coach Jagoba Arrasate’s decision to go with a counter-attacking 4-3-3 formation coupled with a disciplined defensive display caught Lyon cold and is the reason Real Sociedad are now favourites to progress at the expense of the French side.
4. Emerging PSV side could yet pull of a shock in Italy
Last night’s Champions League play-off meeting between PSV Eindhoven and AC Milan evoked memories of the two clubs’ storied history in Europe’s premier football competition. A young and emerging PSV outfit deservedly grabbed a share of the spoils giving manager Philip Cocu hope of for the second leg at the San Siro.
The Dutch side have begun their domestic campaign in style by recording three straight victories to go top of the Eredivisie table and dominated a more experienced Milan side for long spells of Tuesday evening’s 1-1 draw at the PSV Stadion.
Cocu’s 4-3-2-1 setup caused the Italians plenty of issues and helped create 19 scoring chances suggesting a tricky night lies in store for Milan on their home patch next week. If PSV can match their first-leg efforts and use their devastating pace to hit the Rossoneri on the counter-attack then a shock result is in the offing.
5. Russian hit man puts Zenit in driving seat
Newcomers Pacos Ferreira were expected to test Zenit St Petersburg in their Champions League play-off with home advantage at the Estadio de Dragao for the opening tie on Tuesday night. The Portuguese side proved more than a match for their illustrious Russian opponents before Roman Shirokov took the tie by the scruff of the neck.
With the match delicately poised at 1-1, Shirokov completed a terrific hat-trick with goals in the 60th and 90th minutes to add to his 27th minute opener and all but guarantee Luciano Spalletti’s side a place in the group stages.
The in-form 32-year old has now contributed five goals and an assist during Zenit’s Champions League qualifying campaign. Shirokov looks set to play a pivotal role in St. Petersburg’s European campaign by assuming the role of play-maker and chief goal-scorer behind an exciting front three of Bystrov, Kerzhakov and Danny.
Follow Ger McCarthy on Twitter: @germccarthy74