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Celtic FC, Ange Postecoglou, football news, Europa League, SPFL, League Cup final, analysis, injuries, fixtures, schedule, Tom Rogic, scores, results

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When Australian mastermind Ange Postecoglou took over at Scottish heavyweights Celtic in June, he inherited not only the biggest coaching role in men’s European football ever overseen by an Australian – but a giant in disarray.

After a rocky start, he has turned the doubters into believers, and earned a chance to claim the first piece of silverware on offer in Scotland this season. And he has done it by sticking to his guns, winning over fans and the media with a no-nonsense approach. Most importantly, he’s winning matches, and never shying away from his trademark ‘Ange-ball’ so dazzling in its attacking intensity – yet so prone to defensive frailty.

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Pochettino linked to United top job | 01:13

The club had won nine straight league titles only to crumble at the tenth attempt, a severe lack of long-term planning leaving a squad in shambles. A great gamble had been made to keep players around for one more season when many were far from motivated to perform – and it backfired spectacularly.

The board was in no better shape. They had spent months treading water in the hopes that manager Neil Lennon could turn around an increasingly dire season. He resigned in February as bitter rivals Rangers, led by Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard, stormed to the title by a full 25 points.

Even then, Celtic spent months to-ing-and fro-ing in a clumsy attempt to convince Eddie Howe to sign on the dotted line and take charge of the rebuild. When Postecoglou eventually did sign on four months later it was clear he wasn’t the board’s first choice – nor that of the fans.

Postecoglou’s champion status in Australia and Japan, as well as his impressive Socceroos’ record on the international stage, meant little to the Parkhead faithful. Such is the jaundiced manner European clubs look down their nose on Asian football.

The cards were stacked against Postecoglou from the start. There was a squad in dire need of rebuild, sorely lacking in confidence after not winning a league game away from home since February. A parochial and extremely vocal fanbase that had little respect for him – especially since the big-name Howe had been splashed over the front pages of newspapers for months. And Postecoglou had precious little time: he was installed more than a month after the previous season had concluded and took charge of his first training session on June 24, less than two weeks before their first pre-season game and less than a month before their first competitive clash.

Red Devils defeat Villarreal 2-0 in UCL | 00:52

Postecoglou quickly set to work. 12 first-team players left that transfer window while 10 arrived. That is a simply staggering number – a proper knockdown rebuild rather than a revamp. Still, the squad is relatively lacking in depth, and a horrid series of injuries to key players delivered a cruel blow to his early efforts.

Postecoglou’s ‘Ange-ball’ stratagem, though successful in prior clubs in Australia and Japan, is extremely demanding of his players (both physically and mentally) and was always going to take time to implement – especially with so many new players. While it can be devastatingly brilliant when the free flowing attacking moves are executed to the level of minute precision Postecoglou teaches, it is liable to fall apart defensively under pressure. That is particularly due to the constant overlapping runs of Celtic fullbacks to overload the midfield, something which leaves central defenders regularly exposed when the ball is lost.

The early-season results were unsurprisingly mixed. The team delivered stunning offensive displays, like smashing six goals past Dundee and then St Mirren in back-to-back home league games. But the defensive weaknesses saw Postecoglou become the first manager in club history to lose his first three away matches. He failed to reach the Champions League proper, knocked out of the qualifiers by Socceroo Awer Mabil’s Midtjylland. Even when Celtic made it into the second-tier Europa League competition, they lost their first two games – the second a humiliating 4-0 thrashing by German side Bayer Leverkusen. Meanwhile, Steven Gerrard’s Rangers blasted out of the blocks in the league, losing just once in their first 13 games, and beating Celtic in the first Old Firm Derby of the season.

Postecoglou in his typical no-nonsense attire: button-up shirt and tie with a simple club pullover.
Postecoglou in his typical no-nonsense attire: button-up shirt and tie with a simple club pullover.Source: Getty Images

The rumblings over Postecoglou’s tactics, which were openly panned in the media and by Celtic fans in their Glasgow pubs before the Australian had even arrived at the club, grew louder and louder. Many called for a pragmatic approach to curb the defensive sloppiness.

Postecoglou’s response was typically no-nonsense. “If you are a strict vegetarian, you don’t drop into Macca’s just because you are hungry, mate.”

It’s the kind of zinger that sums up Postecoglou perfectly. An unwavering belief that his tactics can succeed anywhere from the cauldron of a Brisbane summer to the technical wizardry of Japan – and to the brutal cut and thrust of Scottish football. And a complete lack of the typical fluff, half-truthful riddles, and public relations scripts so often doled out by managers at the highest level in Europe.

Postecoglou has never talked in that frustrating fashion. He is as open, as blunt as his tactics are dazzling. And it has earned him victory – for now at least – in what was perhaps the greatest battle he faced at Celtic: winning over the fans and the media.

“Celtic fans absolutely love the fact he’s so blunt and honest,” Hamish Carton, host of the popular 67 Hail Hail YouTube channel, told News Corp’s Code Sports.

“For so long we’ve had managers who have just fed us rubbish. Brendan Rodgers was a brilliant manager but you couldn’t really trust a word he said. Now we have a manager that we know will just give us the truth. Sometimes it might not be what the fans want to hear but he won’t sugar-coat it.

“Those wee humorous remarks that he makes – when he drops in the word ‘mate’ – have become his trademark. Fans love a manager sticking it to the media and that hasn’t done Ange any harm at all.”

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When Celtic chief executive Dominic McKay resigned just three months into Postecoglou’s tenure – a massive blow to the Australian, given he was the man who championed signing the Australian and shook his hand for the media to announce the deal – fans were furious at the board.

Postecoglou wasn’t bothered by the uproar, only promising to ‘get on with it’ – and not shying away from the immense pressure from supporters he was under.

“We are all transient figures at this great club,” he said. “The constant is the fans and they expect us to get on with it. I’ve done that throughout my career and will continue to. Everyone is allowed to express opinions in whatever way they choose to, our job is to send the 60,000 who are here home happy and that goes for the millions around the world. Sometimes it’s good to be kept on your toes and I am sure our supporters will do that.”

There have been plenty more potential flashpoints, moments where the manager could easily have soured his relationship with the board or fans. Always he has responded with blunt honesty. There was his careful, measured response to the lack of signings the board allowed in his first weeks – before a raft of deadline-day arrivals and departures. He did not attack his bosses nor make demands, but played a straightforward line again and again – he was building a team that would win, and signings would play a key role.

When star Japanese signing Kyogo Furuhashi was abused by Rangers fans, who were quickly banned by that club, the Australian was asked if he was impressed by the rival club’s speedy reaction.

His response was forthright: “It doesn’t matter who it involves, we don’t need to be impressed. It just has to happen. I don’t think Rangers acted because they wanted to impress anyone, I would like to think people see right and wrong and just deal with it.

“This doesn‘t need endless debates on radio or television on what should happen and why it happened. It is wrong, we know it is wrong.”

That straightforward approach has turned the Celtic faithful into believers. Now, they sing his name, changing the lyrics of ‘Last Christmas’ to chant: “Last Christmas I gave you my heart, but the very next day you gave it away. This year, to save me from tears, I’ll give it to Postecoglou.”

More than once he has clapped and sung along to the delight of the Hoops’ fanatics and the players. When they unveiled the new tune, he simply joked: “I thought the biggest challenge would be getting ‘Postecoglou’ into a song, but they managed it – and credit to them.”

Meanwhile, Rangers demanded organisations pay between £10,000 to £25,000 [$AUD18,000 to $AUD45,000] to attend their manager’s press conferences or take photos on matchdays. No mainstream organisations opted to meet that outrageous demand, meaning Postecoglou’s face and words receive even more play in the media than usual.

In total opposite to the approach of his rivals, he has never shied from the media, almost always attending media obligations in person rather than send an assistant manager. And he has spoken to a host of smaller outlets too, regularly offering long interviews with YouTube channels. Always he speaks of the influential role of his father and his personal journey as much as his desire for the club to succeed – not just a media-savvy manager but a man very much of the people. It is an image completed by his trademark look, donning somewhat casual pants with a button-up shirt and tie invariably covered by a club pullover.

Except, that is, when Celtic unveiled a special Christmas video spruiking club merchandise. A beaming Postecoglou delivered invitations to his players via special ‘Post-ecoglou’ and showed off a quaint Santa sweater. It’s fair to say fans lapped that up, as they did his deadpan response in an interview to a young fan wearing a scarf with his face on it. “I hope it doesn’t scare any children,” he quipped.

Ange Postecoglou gets his Santa on in a club video. Credit: Celtic FC.Source: Supplied

With his blunt humour and his frankness when things are going well or otherwise, Postecoglou has won over the fans – and just as importantly, silenced those faithful to Rangers.

“There was some chatter from some people when he got the job that he would be a fish out of water here,” Carton told Code Sports. “Could he handle a club the size of Celtic? Could he handle the scrutiny of the Scottish media and the Celtic support? Nobody’s asking those questions any more.”

So too has he won over the players. Postecoglou refuses to single players out for criticism after games, even when they made costly errors. That’s not to say he’s their best friend, far from it.

“Most people will tell you if we get on a plane they’d shuffle the boarding passes because no-one wants to sit next to me,” Postecoglou told Open Goal.

“I could sit on a plane, a long-haul for eight hours and not say a word to them and it totally uneases people – particularly players.

“I’ve done it many a time and they hated it. It’s the death seat for them so I don’t think any of the players will they say they got close to the gaffer. I would never sit down and have a cup of coffee with them … I always like to keep a bit of distance between me and the players, and most people, because the biggest responsibility I have is to make decisions and I want to make the best decisions all the time.

“It’s human nature, if you like somebody or dislike somebody, that might affect it. So I keep that distance, but I like to think the players know that I’ve got their back and I’ll fight for them right to the end.

“I’ve always said to players, ‘I take responsibility for all the bad stuff that happens’ and I think players appreciate that. They know where they stand with me.”

Socceroos’ defender Ryan McGowan confirmed that ‘death seat’ anecdote on Twitter, saying: “Victim of the death seat. Sydney to Dubai. Didn’t say one single word the whole time.

“What made it worse I was window seat and too scared to ask him to jump out for the toilet. Horrendous 15 hours, glad he enjoyed it though.”

Postecoglou added that the difficult start to the season forged a strong bond between the players.

“In the early part of the season, they all had to be really resilient as results and performances were inconsistent. But through that adversity, if you stick together it creates a bond among the group.”

That dressing-room unity has seen players fully get behind Postecoglou’s all-out attacking style.

Portuguese signing Jota this month shut down a question of changing their playing style after a disappointing draw, saying: “We don’t want to win playing bad football because those are not our principles.”

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Jota is one of many new arrivals who have flourished. Kyogo Furuhashi tops the league scoring charts despite missing games through injury and could well become the player of the season across Scotland this campaign. Just as importantly is the way Postecoglou has revitalised players he inherited from Lennon’s time. Australian Tom Rogic had been set for a permanent move away from Glasgow a year ago, only to become an influential figure in the starting XI this season before a recent injury. Postecoglou told Open Goal: “When Tommy enjoys his football, that’s when the best comes out of him.

“I’ve sensed that since I’ve come here he’s really enjoying his football now. He’s only 28. He’s got plenty of years ahead of him. In fact, his best years could be ahead of him if he keeps going the way he’s going.”

Others like fullback Tony Ralston, who was hardly used last season, have developed into surprise top-tier performers.

Ange Postecoglou wins MOTM | 01:28

Former Celtic striker turned Sky Sports pundit Andy Walker said, via Code Sports: “I like this new style with the inverted fullbacks. I didn’t think Anthony Ralston was capable of playing at the level he has been showing over the last couple of months. I’m very much enjoying watching Ange’s team. His football, when it comes off, is sparkling.”

Injuries, like that to Rogic or defender Carl Starfelt, have continued to bite Postecoglou’s thin squad. But the Australian this week beat reigning League Cup champions St Johnstone 1-0 to book a place in next month’s final – the first piece of silverware on offer this season. And in the league, Celtic sit just four points behind leaders Rangers after 13 games, with Rangers boss Steven Gerrard subsequently walking out the door to take over Premier League club Aston Villa.

After finishing 25 points behind Rangers last campaign, and not even reaching the final of any competition, it is a marker of Postecoglou’s remarkable transformation of a club in shambles just six months ago.

Kyogo Furuhashi has become a standout figure since his arrival.Source: Getty Images

There are still major problems to face. The club on Friday morning (Australian) faces Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League, with only a win likely to keep them alive in the hunt for the elimination rounds. With the physio’s room still chock-full of recovering players, either Osaze Urhoghide or Liam Scales could feature at the crucial centre-back position. Neither have played a single minute in the league this season.

And the departure of chief executive Dominic McKay could prove crucial come the January transfer window, when Postecoglou will almost certainly look to add more players to his thin squad.

Walker said the changes in the boardroom had an impact on Postecoglou’s mixed start.

“All of that hasn’t helped Ange settle as quickly as he would have liked.

“Relationships, like the one with your chief executive and other directors, are so important for any manager. For Ange’s sake, you have to hope that he can continue to have his voice listened to and that the players coming in are transfers he wants to make and not forced upon him.

“I’m not a big fan of the Celtic board at all so I wouldn’t put anything past them at all. But I hope they give him time. He’s had one transfer window in which he managed to do an incredible amount of business but he needs more to add bits and pieces as he sees fit.”

Postecoglou’s rebuild has already turned doubters into believers. Winning the league cup next month would add significant weight to that growing confidence. Then comes January and it will be up to the board to, well, get on board Postecoglou’s revival.

Early last month, with Celtic having won just two of their last eight games, Postecoglou declared: “I’m hoping that in six months’ time, when people look back, they will know why I have been so resolute and persistent about what we are doing.”

His persistence and unwavering belief paid off in Australia, in Japan, and with the Socceroos. Postecoglou is on the same path to success in Scotland.

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EPL news 2021, Manchester United, next manager, Mauricio Pochettino, Ernesto Valverde, PSG, Zidane, Erik ten Hag, latest, update

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Manchester United’s executives breathed a huge sigh of relief on Wednesday morning (AEDT) as interim manager to the interim manager Michael Carrick oversaw a 2-0 win at Villarreal to see the Red Devils into the last 16 of the Champions League.

But no one is screaming ‘Michael’s at the wheel’ this time, like they did when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made a great start to his life as Manchester United caretaker boss.

Instead they’ve sounded out another option as an interim boss, while still trying waiting to see if it’s possible for their No.1 choice, Mauricio Pochettino, to leave PSG mid-season, rather than wait until the end of the current campaign.

According to the Daily Telegraph, United have held talks with former Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde about taking over as their interim manager – although he is just one of a number of candidates currently being considered.

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(Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)
(Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)Source: AFP

Valverde has been out of work since being sacked by Barcelona in January of last year following a two-and-a-half year spell at the club where he won successive La Liga titles and a Copa del Rey.

Although he has no Premier League experience, Valverde has also managed La Liga sides Athletic Bilbao, Valencia, Villarreal and Espanyol.

However, Manchester United would abandoned their initial plan of bringing in an interim coach should Pochettino’s situation change, with reports suggesting he is open to moving to Old Trafford now.

Pochettino faced the media for the first time since Solskjaer’s sacking – ironically in Manchester as he prepares his PSG side to take on Man City in the Champions League on Thursday morning (AEDT) – and insisted he was happy at the club.

However, multiple reports state that tensions have developed between Pochettino and PSG’s sporting director Leonardo, while it’s already known he wants to head back to the Premier League when his time in Paris does end.

“I am very focused on football. I am not a kid; I am not a child. I have spent my whole life playing football and now it’s my 12th year as a coach.

Will Zidane be the next United manager? | 06:18

“We are in a business that the rumours are there, I completely understand what is going on – sometimes in a positive way and sometimes in a negative way. This type of thing cannot distract. They are rumours. Rumours are there and we need to live with that.

“I’m not going to make the mistake at all. You know very well that everything we say will finish in a way… In the past I said when I was in Espanyol my dream was to know, to meet Ferguson. All that until now is going to be misunderstood or is going to be out of context. I am so happy at Paris St Germain and I am focused to try to be at my best, like we are doing.”

When asked if he intended on seeing out his contract with PSG, Pochettino answered carefully: “In football it is about living the present, not about living the past or the future.”

PSG are reportedly relaxed about the situation and are well aware of Zinedine Zidane’s interest in filling any vacancy they may have.

According to Spanish outlet MARCA, PSG’s players feel that Zidane is on his way into the club to succeed Pochettino in the next couple of weeks and are privately discussing it amongst themselves.

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UEFA Champions League 2021, Manchester United vs Villarreal, result, score, Jadon Sancho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Michael Carrick, next manager latest news

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is gone and there will be a number of players in the Manchester United squad now believing they have a second shot at reviving their careers at the club.

By the end of Solskjaer’s reign, a large number of players were under performing with perhaps only David De Gea and Cristiano Ronaldo able to say they delivered what was expected of them.

Bruno Fernandes, who saved Solskjaer’s skin on more than one occasion, had seen his performances drop off, while Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire also saw massive declines from the previous season.

Donny van de Beek and Jesse Lingard never got a look in, Jadon Sancho struggled to adjust to the Premier League and Anthony Martial had become more erratic that ever before in his performances.

As for the central midfield quartet, Scott McTominay and Fred remained first-choice despite their obvious struggles, Nemanja Matic was deemed too old and immobile to play and Paul Pogba continued to be a square peg in a team full of round holes.

So now Solskjaer has departed Old Trafford, with an interim manager set to be appointed until the end of the season in the coming weeks, we’ve looked at the players who are set to receive a reprieve under Michael Carrick and an opportunity to show why they deserve to continue their careers at Manchester United.

Carrick made a number of big calls for his first game in the hotseat, including dropping Fernandes. Here’s what his first teamsheet means for the Manchester United squad.

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(Photo by JOSE JORDAN / AFP)
(Photo by JOSE JORDAN / AFP)Source: AFP

THE MAIN CAST

Ronaldo started and once again scored a vital goal for United to continue his Champions League scoring streak to five consecutive matches. But his overall play was much improved too. His link-up play was impressive and he even pressed slightly more than usual as he took on a greater leadership role within the team.

De Gea was also very impressive and made a string of stunning saves which meant that another Champions League comeback was not necessary as the teams trudged in at half time. He and Ronaldo will continue to be the first two names on the teamsheet each week, with Raphael Varane closely behind them when he returns from injury.

Fernandes was very much an auto-pick for Solskjaer but Carrick used the game against Villarreal to drop United’s talisman, who has now gone 14 games without scoring. However, when he came on after 65 minutes with Marcus Rashford, the game changed and United became a lot more comfortable and confident and improved massively. A game or two out of the team may be what he needs to refocus on what he is best at but he will definitely be a key cog for the manager(s) to come.

As will Rashford, who was overlooked for a surprise start for Martial, but looked lively when he came on and nearly scored on a couple of occasions. He has been in good form since coming back from a shoulder injury and should get a good run in the team.

Through sheer lack of options, the midfield duo nicknamed McFred will continue to work in tandem together and be the first choice pairing – especially now Pogba isn’t expected to return from injury until the new year. This is the position the club most need to strengthen in but unless Carrick – or whoever comes after him – can be the first United manager to work out how to get the best out of Pogba there, McFred will continue. Fred’s pressing to set up Ronaldo’s opener was a pleasing sight for the new boss.

Pochettino linked to United top job | 01:13

THE BIGGEST IMPROVERS

There is no doubt who was the biggest improver now he is free of Solskjaer and that was Jadon Sancho. He took a while to settle as United struggled to maintain possession in the first half with Van de Beek forced to do the dirty work and help out in midfield rather than prioritise his attacking responsibilities. But when United were able to get to ball to him, he was excellent. He played a lovely one-two with Fernandes which nearly resulted in a goal before he finally found the next with an emphatic finish in stoppage time. It was his first goal for the club but coupled with the performance, it is a great platform for him to build upon from here.

Harry Maguire was also much improved, albeit it the only was up for him after some torrid performances of late, culminating in a red card in Solskjaer’s final game in charge. He seemed to have collected himself for the trip to Villarreal after admitting he had to take “a big responsibility” after his former boss’ dismissal. He still looked vulnerable next to Victor Lindelof but will improve once Varane returns. A clean sheet – only United’s third of the season – will be a huge relief for him and the rest of his defensive strugglers.

Red Devils defeat Villarreal 2-0 in UCL | 00:52

THE SECOND CHANCERS

Donny van de Beek is the biggest winner from Solskjaer’s sacking and he was immediately thrust into the first team at the first opportunity by Carrick.

However, it was only his first start in two months and this was a reminder of how far the former Ballon d’Or nominee had fallen under Solskjaer. He wasn’t afraid to do the hard yards as United were overrun in midfield in the first half, but that meant he was starving Ronaldo, Sancho and Martial of his playmaking. He deserves credit for his workrate but was clearly short of match fitness when he was taken off after 65 minutes. It’s when he is fully up to speed with starting matches again that we should be able to see his true potential at United.

Alex Telles, the left-back brought in to fight Luke Shaw for his place by Solskjaer, also started and was impressive in his attacking. He made a fine run which he won a free kick on the edge of the area for at one point and also deliver a wicked cross for Ronaldo to attack as he showed off what he can do when given a chance. He will likely remain Shaw’s understudy for the season but he showed that unless the Englishman improves, he is capable of stepping up in his stead.

Nemanja Matic was also brought on at the end to shore things up and is likely to play a bigger role under a manager who himself was once an ageing central midfield with an eye for a pass but a lack of mobility.

Villarreal gift Ronaldo a goal! | 00:51

THE NO CHANCERS

Jesse Lingard was on the bench again but still didn’t manage to get onto the pitch. When the game was crying out for attacking ingenuity, Carrick turned to Fernandes and Rashford, rather than the England international, who is set to leave in January.

Lingard was persuaded to stay by Solskjaer only to be given very little game time – despite making two excellent substitute appearances at the start of the season. But a change in manager doesn’t look like it will signal a change in fortune for Lingard, who is desperate to play again. As a result he will either leave the club on a free at the end of the season or United will try and get any fee they can for him in January.

De Gea’s understudy Dean Henderson is also unlikely to get a chance, through no fault of his own but merely down to the Spaniard’s brilliance so far this season. The Englishman did challenge De Gea at the start of last season but De Gea ultimately won out and will continue to remain Manchester United’s No.1.

Eric Bailly will likely get a chance as the fourth centre back against Chelsea on the weekend with Varane injured and Maguire suspended, but that’s about as high in the pecking order as he will get it appears. Similarly, with Diogo Dalot, who still wasn’t given a chance at right back despite Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s poor start to the season and obvious attacking flaws.

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