Andy Walker
Football Expert & Columnist

Andy Walker gives his verdict on Celtic's Champions League defeat to AC Milan

Neil Lennon: plenty to ponder

Celtic threw away a marvellous opportunity to make a promising start to their demanding Champions League campaign by dropping all three points in the San Siro against AC Milan.

Despite enjoying the bulk of possession Neil Lennon's men just couldn't find a way through the Milan defence and the truth is the scoreline flattered the Italians.

Before a ball was kicked, every Hoops supporter would've settled for a point away from home but as the game developed and Celtic became dominant in possession, a memorable away victory looked likely at one stage.

Looking at how the game developed, I was surprised to see Milan drop off their opponents so readily. Just as Shakhtar Karagandy had dropped deep on their own ground in the play-off qualifier and allowed Celtic easy possession, Milan too couldn't have been less interested in closing down and putting their immediate opponent under pressure.

But to be fair, they are the masters in the art of defending and grew stronger as the game balanced on a knife-edge. Celtic just didn't do enough in the last third to make that vital breakthrough.

It was a great pity that Joe Ledley missed the game through injury. In my view he is such an important player for Celtic in and out of possession and they missed his drive and ability to control much of the game.

Fanatical

Having said that, Milan also had their problems ahead of the opening Group H fixture. They've had an indifferent start to their domestic campaign and were missing a number of first choice players through injury.

Unlike Celtic, they know how to win when they are not at their best in this extremely competitive environment. With five games to go, Celtic are by no means out of it.

Next up for Neil Lennon's men is a home encounter against the might of Barcelona. Last season they somehow shocked the whole of Europe by edging past the Spanish superstars. Celtic's fanatical home crowd played a huge part on the night by lifting their own players and another unforgettable occasion is in prospect.

Lennon - Celtic were brilliant

But the objective remains to get through the group and Celtic will have to come up with a big win. I think they're capable of beating Milan at home but matching a 2-0 scoreline will be extremely difficult. A head-to-head result against either Milan or Ajax may well be the difference between qualification or not.

Crucial

The back-to-back clashes with Ajax will clearly hold the key to where Celtic will finish in the group.

I expect Teemu Pukki to feature in place of Antony Stokes once he gets games under his belt and improves his fitness and sharpness. Pukki has international experience that will serve him well in this magnificent football tournament and he'll also bring a bit of pace in the last third that Celtic lack just now.

As disappointing as it was to come away with nothing from the San Siro, Celtic have shown that they can comfortably compete at this level.

I still wouldn't rule out qualification to the knockout stage to prove once again that they can perform above their ranking as the lowest seeded team in the group.