Champions League: Celtic need settled side following Cluj debacle, says Scott McDonald
Celtic are licking their wounds after a shock defeat by Romanian outfit CFR Cluj saw their Champions League hopes dashed for another season.
Under-fire Celtic manager Neil Lennon defended his team selection following the 4-3 loss at Celtic Park.
However, former Celtic striker Scott McDonald believes a number of those wounds were self-inflicted. Here, he tells BBC Scotland where Celtic have stumbled both on and off the park.
Where did it go wrong?
"There was a combination of things: defensively, it was all over the place. Callum McGregor playing left-back; why wasn't Boli Bolingoli playing after paying £3m for him; paying £7m for Christopher Jullien and leaving him on the bench? When you pay £7m on a player, why isn't he playing in these big occasions? Is that not what they're bought for?
"The chopping and changing of the back four over the last couple of weeks, I'm not really comfortable with that. The back four needs to be steady and solid.
"I don't like comparing, but when Brendan Rodgers initially came in, in the first season when they qualified for the Champions League, whether it was a Premiership game or a Champions League game, he never changed his starting XI.
"Neil's still trying to find what his best XI is but it paints a worrying picture when Celtic spend £3m on Bolingoli and he doesn't play in the biggest game of the season thus far."
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What about the team selection and formation?
"Playing one of your most influential players [Callum McGregor] at left-back - Brendan Rodgers received criticism for it too - when it doesn't go right then you have to accept it.
"Callum isn't a left-back by trade and isn't the biggest physically. That's a target that Cluj identified on the night and you have to give [Cluj manager] Dan Petrescu credit for that. He's obviously done his homework to see Celtic have struggled with [defending] diagonal balls in the past.
"A [1-1 first leg] draw away from home in Romania, and you think it's all set up for Celtic to go and do the business and go on to the next stage of Champions League qualifying. But to be shocked last night by some of the defending, and how open they were, Celtic are [defensively] vulnerable and that's got a lot to do with the [domestic] competition they're coming up against - they aren't ready.
"Kristoffer Ajer, who was man of the match against Motherwell at the weekend, playing at right-back and then asking him to come back in at centre-back: it's not nice for players to be chopping and changing all the time.
"Celtic need to go on and secure nine in a row but Neil still needs a couple of quality players to come through the door before the transfer window closes."
Could you see Celtic playing a back three in Europe?
"If Kieran Tierney was still at the club then I think that would be a shape that would suit them. With Bolingoli playing on the left-hand side, it's still all up for debate as to whether he's up to the task or not. However, you've given the player a four-year deal and he's cost £3m, so you have to put some kind of faith in him. Neil Lennon did flirt with that formation [three central defenders] a couple of times in pre-season - I think it will be something they'll go to every now and again. Whether or not he settles on that is another question. I still think Celtic's strongest shape is the 4-3-3."
How will the players feel now?
"The dressing room will be hugely low and it'll be very difficult for Neil Lennon to pick his players up. The only good thing is they're not completely down and out. They've still got Europa League qualifiers, so they can't feel sorry for themselves for too long. Celtic supporters will be very disappointed, but I think there will still be a 50-50 argument in terms of what they believe is more important: qualifying for the Champions League or getting to nine in a row to push for 10?"
"The club received £25m for Kieran Tierney, £8m or £9m compensation for Brendan Rodgers [following his move to Leicester City] and the money from Moussa Dembele [transfer to Lyon] - where is it all going? Why is it not being spent? But Celtic still have to live within their means. I don't think it's a case of not trying to spend the money at times, it's a challenge to get the two things that are most important: the transfer fee and then to pay the wages on top of that.
"If you're paying top dollar in transfers then you have to pay top dollar in the wages. That's where it falls by the wayside because Celtic can't afford to pay £50,000 or £60,000 per week to players. It's just not sustainable.
"So, Celtic need to look at a different market and bringing through these rough diamonds and the recruitment has to work harder. Lee Congerton had a failed time at Celtic and now it's someone else's time to pick up the pieces. They need to get that process right if they're to move in the right direction.
"When you see some of the players at Celtic who have been and gone in recent years: Victor Wanyama, Virgil van Dijk, Moussa Dembele… if Celtic get a good player at a decent price, then sell them on, the player can use that to his advantage. Without Champions League football, it proves very, very difficult [to attract players] regardless of how big a club you are."