Celtic 0 Real Madrid 3
Celtic knew how to start. Real Madrid knew how to finish. Three second-half goals and an immaculate display of second-half possession got their title defence off to a perfect start. Was it deserved, did it follow the run of play, did it make any kind of sense? For Madrid, these are questions that have long since ceased to trouble them. This is simply what they do. They enter your house, soak up the noise, and then simply take what they came for.
For Celtic, a valuable learning experience at the highest level. How many domestic opponents can put their defence under this kind of sustained pressure? Here, after a raucous start, they were made to pay for their profligacy in front of goal, particularly the golden chance passed up by Daizen Maeda early in the second half, back when the game was goalless and Parkhead’s big opening still felt alive with colour and possibility.
The East End had been waiting for a night like this. Five years for the Champions League proper, and yet the swell of hope felt older still. It was 2013 the last time Celtic Park witnessed a victory in this competition, and the classic anthem was greeted with a stupendous roar of pride and belief: a sense that with Ange Postecoglou and a 38-match unbeaten league run at their backs, this is a club once again capable of greatness.
And Celtic came to play. They didn’t charge recklessly into the game, they didn’t simply hack long balls up to the returning Giorgos Giakoumakis. Postecoglou has taught them better than that. Instead they passed it around disdainfully, waited out the long spells of Madrid possession, tried to hit the wide-open spaces behind their high line. Reo Hatate even had the audacity to dispossess the great Luka Modric when he dithered on the ball in his own half. From front to back, Celtic were showing the 14-time champions a magnificent disrespect.
There were chances too, good chances: a couple for Liel Abada, a couple for Hatate, a shot from captain Callum McGregor that cracked against the inside of the post. Madrid were further discomfited by an early injury to Karim Benzema, who collected a knock to his knee, limped around for a while and eventually came off for a rusty Eden Hazard, who still somehow managed to provide a mobility downgrade.
Resisted but not rattled, Real retreated into their tried and tested patterns. With the ball, Toni Kroos drops into left back, Ferland Mendy steps up to support Vinícius Junior and all of a sudden Real have a ticking bomb on that flank. If the left wing is their chaos, the right wing is their sanity: Modric and Fede Valverde steadily building play, probing for gaps, always unbalancing, always tilting the pitch.
Over time, order was gradually established. Madrid finished the first half the stronger. And here is the thing about Carlo Ancelotti’s side: even when you think you have them tamed, pinned back, under control, they can rear at you like a spitting cobra. After a short period of stalemate, Madrid countered through Valverde. He darted down the right, nobody in support, before rolling a measured cross into a deserted penalty area. But Valverde knew exactly what he was doing.
He knew without looking, that Vinícius would be galloping into that space at shinkansen speed. All that remained was the finish, and given the sort of form Vinícius is in at the moment, no suspense was necessary.
As Celtic processed this crushing blow, Madrid simply reassembled and dealt them another. Modric, growing in influence, received the ball from Hazard after a collision between Giakoumakis and Cameron Carter-Vickers.
Moritz Jenz got a toe on the ball but it fell nicely for Modric a second time, swerving the ball past Joe Hart with an outstep that puts most players’ insteps to shame.
That was that, really. All Postecoglou could do was throw on some fresh blood, but as Aaron Mooy and Kyogo Furuhashi took the stage, Ancelotti simply threw on Eduardo Camavinga, Marco Asensio and Rodrygo in a display of imperial strength.
Hazard tapped in a valedictory third after an elementary passing move, and suddenly the stands that had earlier been quivering with noise were now awkwardly quiet.
But as the minutes leaked away, Celtic Park found its voice and its feet again, hailing its chastened heroes. They knew they had been in a game. They knew they had been outclassed this time by the better team. But they knew, too, that they would be back. – Guardian