Ange Postecoglou has called on his Celtic players to come together as a unit and get through their first European test.
With Nir Bitton suspended, Christopher Jullien “at least another couple of months” away from a comeback, Kristoffer Ajer departed for Brentford, and new signing Carl Starfelt in quarantine, Celtic are set to line up with a highly-inexperienced central defence when they take on Midjtylland in Denmark on Wednesday.
Stephen Welsh, 21, and 18-year-old Dane Murray in central defence finished the 1-1 first-leg draw in the Champions League qualifiers following Bitton’s red card.
And, with Anthony Ralston Celtic’s only right-back, left-back Greg Taylor at 23 is set to be their most experienced defender.
The Danes’ equaliser came courtesy of a major blunder by Vasilis Barkas and the goalkeeper’s performance in a 6-2 friendly defeat by West Ham came under further scrutiny.
But Postecoglou stressed they cannot afford to focus on individuals when questioned about the Greek international’s frame of mind.
“I am shying away from focusing on individuals because I just feel, from where we are at this moment of time, it’s the collective that is going to get us the results we need and the kind of performances we need,” he said.
“We are such a young group at the moment. You look at our back four and potentially there’s not a player over 24 years of age, I think, and I hate to think how many appearances between the four of them.
“I can’t start isolating individuals and trying to analyse their games too deeply because ultimately that’s not going to make a difference to what we are trying to do now.
“We are trying to achieve something and the only way we will achieve it is as a collective. That incudes Barky and every other player in the team. I am looking at team performance rather than individuals right now.”
With the back four lacking experience, Postecoglou stressed the need to defend as a unit.
“On Saturday I was really disappointed with the way we defended as a team and that doesn’t mean just the back four or the goalkeeper,” the Australian said.
“We just lacked a real competitive edge all over the park and, if you do that against quality opposition, you will get exposed. Which was disappointing because in the first leg against Midtjylland, that was a key part of our performance.
“We really restricted them to a couple of strikes outside the box and worked really hard defensively as a collective.
“That remains the key for us. Until we get some players in and get some more depth and quality to our squad, it’s the collective that is going to pull us through.
“We can’t rely on our two centre-backs or back four to just do the defending. They don’t yet have the experience and standing for us to say ‘let them deal with that aspect’. And it’s not the way I want us to play anyway.
“It’s not about us shielding the back four, it’s about us defending as a team when the opposition have it.”
Postecoglou stressed European football was “absolutely a priority” after emerging from the first leg still in the tie despite admitting the team would never be as badly prepared for a big game again.
“We have had another week of training and the friendly game as well, which had its good and disappointing bits,” he said.
“But it’s all about development and learnings, and the players have probably had another week of understanding better how we want to play. So I think we are a bit further along in our preparations.”
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