UEFA Europa League
Round of 32, 1st Leg
Thursday, February 14, 2019
Celtic Park, Glasgow
(Cheryshev 42, Sobrino 48)
THE first leg of Celtic’s last 32 UEFA Europa League encounter against Valencia ended in disappointment tonight (Thursday), when the Spanish side beat the Scottish champions 2-0 at Paradise.
Both sides started the match with a pace and intensity fitting of the occasion, and it wasn’t long before Celtic carved their first half-chance by way of James Forrest.
Picking up the ball on the inside-right channel, the 27-year-old drove into the opposing penalty area before being pulled to the ground by Valencia left-back Lato.
The referee waved play on, and the loose ball broke to Ryan Christie who curled a left-foot shot at goal that was comfortably matched by Neto between the sticks.
For the next five minutes, the Hoops capitalised on a spell of neat possession play, when Scott Sinclair burst past his man on the left flank and sought to cross into the box.
He was matched by Piccini who blocked for a corner, and despite rising well for the set-piece, Dedryck Boyata couldn’t get enough of his head around the ball.
When in possession, Valencia stepped out from the back with a speed and directness that called for aggressive defending from the Scottish champions.
Jeremy Toljan looked solid on the right-side of the Hoops defence, and looked equally competent when linking up with Scott Brown inside, and Forrest just in front.
Deeper into the first-half, the visitors settled into their game and passed the ball around with a finesse and sharpness reflective of La Liga standard. On 20 minutes, a handy cross from Ruben Sobrino at wide-right was met by the head of Daniel Wass, which despite looking goal-bound, forced a wonderful save from Hoops stopper Scott Bain who clawed the ball from the top corner at full-stretch.
Celtic continued to defend well and press the game whenever the space allowed. On 35 minutes, a long ball was chased down by Olly Burke but cleared by Mouctar Diakhaby, and moments later, Sinclair laced a beautifully-weighted ball through to Burke once more, which caused Lato to clear with his feet at the edge of the penalty area.
With just three minutes of normal time left in the first half, the visitors broke the deadlock by virtue of a well-worked counter-attack.
Callum McGregor had a claim for a foul turned down deep into his opponents’ half, and the loose ball broke to Valencia captain Parejo. He played a timely through-ball through to Sobrino, who squared to Denis Cheryshev in front of goal, and the Russian tapped in from a few yards out.
The visitors went into the break in front, and doubled their lead just three minutes into the second period, when another fast break saw Cheryshev this time turn provider for striking partner Sobrino.
After winning the ball in the middle of the pitch, Valencia broke out wide on the left flank, Cheryshev crossed into the box, and Sobrino struck hard into the net from six-yards.
Mindful of the visitors’ two away goals, Celtic duly stepped out ahead of the hour-mark before Ryan Christie and Scott Sinclair made way for Odsonne Edouard and Timo Weah respectively.
The new attacking options gave the home side a boost in the final third, and a handful of half-chances fell to the fresh faces as the Hoops pressed to pull one back.
On 70 minutes, McGregor showed great vision to find Emilio Izaguirre on the inside-left flank, before the 32-year-old Honduran played in Edouard down the line with a great first-time pass. The Frenchman in turn drove to the touchline, but his low cross was scrambled clear before reaching the oncoming Weah.
Inside the final 10 minutes, a well-structured and well-disciplined Valencia sat in and dictated the pace of the game from deep inside their own half. Likewise, a frustrated Celtic pressed with typical determination, but could not create enough in front of the opposition goal.
With it all to do in the second leg of their last 32 UEFA Europa League encounter, the Hoops will aim to overturn a two-goal deficit when they travel to the Estadio Mestalla next week (Thursday, February 21).
CELTIC: Bain; Toljan, Boyata, Simunovic, Izaguirre; Brown, McGregor, Forrest, Christie (Edouard 59), Sinclair (Weah 59); Burke
Subs not used: Gordon, Lustig, Ajer, Hayes, Johnston
VALENCIA: Neto; Piccinini (Gameiro 78), Garay, Diakhaby, Lato; Soler, Parejo (Coquelin 45), Kondogbia, Wass; Cheryshev (Guedes 64); Sobrino
Subs not used: Domenech, Lee, Torres, Centelles