Celtic are becoming ominously accustomed to Champions League mis-matches. The margin of defeat here may not have been as harrowing as delivered by Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain in the past 13 months but the tale of a gulf in class was familiar. Bayern – this recently rejuvenated Bayern – further demonstrated the chasm between Europe’s elite and the rest; and with consummate ease.
Nonetheless, it would be remiss to ignore the failure of Celtic to do themselves justice. Whereas Brendan Rodgers had spoken before the game in wholly positive terms, his sentiment was undermined by failings in every area of the field. Celtic played as if intimidated by reputation, losing dreadful goals.
“There is no denying we are playing against a top-class side and we felt we could have done better with the goals we conceded and with some of our build-up play,” Rodgers said. “You have to be a realist as well and respect who we are playing against. Of course we want to be competitive at this level but you also have to measure the level of quality you are playing against.”
To his credit, and accurately, the former Liverpool manager disputed any sense an alternative approach could have gained reward. “It’s not about being pragmatic at the goals we conceded. We didn’t defend our box well enough when crosses came in. We can do better with those. But listen, I would rather lose a game playing how we want to play and how we want to work rather than sitting in and defending for 90 minutes and still losing, if that’s the case.”
The return of Jupp Heynckes to Bayern had increased the scale of Celtic’s task even before personnel problems became apparent. Jozo Simunovic, a defender whose career in Glasgow has been blighted by injury setbacks, missed the trip to Bavaria because of a hamstring problem. Rodgers had not prioritised that area of his team during the summer transfer window, meaning the deployment of a makeshift back line against one of European football’s most menacing attacks.
The problems linked to that were apparent within seven minutes. The hosts had already had a goal dubiously ruled out – the ball having been adjudged to have crossed the byline before a Robert Lewandowski cut-back – by the time they were denied a blatant penalty. Mikael Lustig, playing in an unfamiliar centre-back position, clearly pulled the shirt of the marauding Lewandowski.
The opening goal was not long in arriving though. Lewandowski was left in splendid isolation to meet a Joshua Kimmich cross. Gordon saved expertly from the Poland striker, but Thomas Müller was on hand to dispatch the rebound. Rodgers, not for the first or last time, looked skyward in disbelief.
While Bayern’s talent must be recognised, the dishevelled nature of Celtic’s first-half performance should be acknowledged. Strangely, for a side so dominant domestically, the Scottish champions played without confidence. There was also generosity.
Number two arrived from Kimmich, who was completely unmarked as he headed a Kingsley Coman cross past the stranded Gordon. Coman’s level of success against the hapless Cristian Gamboa was a recurring feature of the opening period.
The Bayern support did not appear particularly bothered by their team’s canter, which left it open to debate as to how ruthless those in red may choose to be. What was not up for discussion was the key part Celtic were playing in their own downfall.
Mats Hummels was afforded a rare goal celebration in extending Bayern’s advantage to three. Arjen Robben, playing and excelling in his 100th Champions League match, was the creator with a corner after Celtic landed themselves in a terrible defensive mess. Hummels ran off Scott Brown before delivering a glancing header beyond Gordon.Robben was denied a deserved goal to mark his landmark appearance by a goalline Gamboa block. Celtic rallied during the closing stages, if insufficiently so to earn consolation.