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Muscle Men, Rub of the Green and Magic- Strachan’s recipe for success in the Champions League

Gordon Strachan has a unique insight into the Champions League with a record that recent Celtic managers could only dream of.

Six consecutive home wins over the course of 15 months included Manchester United and AC Milan among the victims when Celtic Park genuinely was a ground to fear.

These days a trip to Glasgow tends to be a bit more pleasant with just one group stage win since goals from James Forrest and Beram Kayal defeated Ajax in 2013.

Strachan picked up on the framework established by Martin O’Neill and added the brilliance of Artur Boruc and Shunsuke Nakamura to achieve incredible results.

Scott McDonald, Kenny Miller, Stephen Pearson and Massimo Donati all scored on the biggest stage of all but tonight in Madrid the current Celtic squad is looking around for heroes.

Matt O’Riley and Kyogo Furuhashi have made an impact in this season’s competitions but the former Celtic and Scotland boss would like to see a more physical dimension to the way the hoops go about business:

Strachan took part in a Q and A with Ice 36, examining how the current side can aspire towards his own achievements almost 20 years ago

Celtic and the Champions League

I thought Lazio looked like a really ordinary side. I thought they were OK in the midfield, but the front three were poor. Immobile, I know he’s done well over the last few years and scored a lot of goals, but he didn’t impress me. I wasn’t worried about Lazio’s attacking threat.

Celtic’s performances have been decent. If you look back at Celtic in the competition last season, they were also some good performances under Ange. They had spells of forty-five minutes to an hour where they were playing some terrific stuff – they just couldn’t manage to see out a game over ninety minutes. It’s been a similar story this season.

Some of the opponents you face in the Champions League have got brilliant players. Top class players who can see a game out, the experience of how to get you over the line at the highest level in the game. I think Celtic have been missing a little bit of that in places and I also think that they missed Cameron Carter-Vickers.

Rub of the green gone against Celtic?

Celtic have been on the end of some poor decisions. I think they’ve been a bit unlucky, particularly in the game against Feyenoord where they had two players sent off.

I also think with better decision-making from the players, they would probably have another two points at least.

Do you think Brendan has any regrets about how this season’s Champions League campaign has panned out? Would he change anything?

The funny thing is, everyone always asks you if you would change anything as a manager. You will never, ever know if the results would have been any different as a manager.

You’re a man that’s navigated the group stage a few times…

To get out of the Champions League group, you’ve got to pull off that big victory. It’s like what Scotland did in the European qualifiers by beating Spain. You need that as a team because the momentum and confidence it gives you is magical.

When I look back to my Celtic teams, they were probably a little bit more physical, and I also had some players that could produce a moment of magic to win you a game. Martin O’Neil’s teams were far more physical than mine.

We could probably get through on a bit of muscle at times. I think over the last couple of years (in the Champions League) Celtic have been looking to qualify on sheer technical ability because they haven’t got the same muscle as the group I or Martin (O’Neil) had. Martin’s team were a team of giants and they also had Henrick Larsson up front. On days where your technical ability may not be at its highest level, other attributes like height, strength and power can make up for that and get you through.

Against Atletico Madrid

The horrible thing about this game is that Atletico were beaten at the weekend in La Liga. They don’t often lose two games in a row – they will want to respond.

They are a team that are masters of the dark arts. Beelzebub! Even at the end of the Celtic match where all their players just walked off – they’re the embodiment of their manager.

What message would you send to the Celtic players ahead of this game?

Don’t rush. I don’t think that they need to make any drastic changes to how they would approach this game and, sometimes, if you make too many changes as a manager in terms of tactics or personnel, players get spooked. You don’t want to create doubts in the players’ minds where they start to think that the manager doesn’t trust them to play their normal game – I’ve done that before as a manager in Europe.

You then realise, actually, if we play our game, on occasions the opponent isn’t that good and that gives everyone even more confidence because you played the game on your terms. It’s like standing up to a bully at school. You have to put your own mark on it – sometimes you’ll have to take a couple of hits (laughs).

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