Celtic title winner Morten Wieghorst on the vital skill that Ange Postecoglou’s players are starting to master

BEING a member of the Lyngby team which won the Danish Superliga for the second and to date last time in their history in 1992 was the perfect preparation for Celtic for Morten Wieghorst.

The Royal Blues were the dominant force in the country that season and ended up beating Boldklubben 1903 to the title by three points.

No fewer than four of their players – Henrik Larsen, Torben Frank, Claus Christiansen and Peter Nielsen – were included in the national squad for the European Championship finals in Sweden on the back of their success.

Larsen, the playmaker who had returned to Lyngby from Pisa in Italy on loan, was the joint top scorer at Euro ’92 alongside Dennis Bergkamp, Tomas Brolin and Karl-Heinz Riedle.

He featured in the final along with Christiansen as the unfancied Danes – who had only qualified when Yugoslavia were disqualified 10 days before the tournament got underway – stunned Germany and shocked the football world by triumphing 2-0 to lift the trophy.

Wieghorst, who is now the assistant manager of Denmark, can still recall how opposing teams would sit back in numbers and try to make themselves hard to break down when he played in that renowned Lyngby side home or away.

Yet, the ball-winning midfielder, who won a move to Dundee on the back of that league victory, relished the unique challenge that such negative rivals presented and enjoyed trying to find a way to unlock tightly-packed defences.

Those experiences certainly stood him in good stead after he moved from Dens Park to Parkhead in an £800,000 transfer in 1995.

“It is part and parcel of playing for one of the big two clubs in Scotland, Celtic and Rangers,” said Wieghorst with his distinctive Tayside twang. “That is the challenge.

“But that is the same of any league in Europe; if you are a title contender at one of the teams that is expected to win the title then it is something you are going to have to put up with.

“You always have to find ways to break down the opposition, most of the teams anyway, when you play them. But that can be enjoyable too.

“As a player for a top team you need to be able to do that. You have to move the ball quickly and be able to create things in tight spaces and wear the opposition down eventually even if they have a lot of bodies back.

“I certainly remember that from my time at Celtic. I had spent three years at Dundee before that and that was a different ball game. I have been on both sides of it and can understand why smaller teams do it.”

He added: “I was part of a Lyngby team that won the league in 1992. That was actually how I ended up in Scotland. I played against Rangers in a qualifier for the first ever Champions League and got noticed.

“Anyway, I experienced opposition teams sitting back and defending at Lyngby. We had a very good side and got four players in the Denmark squad that won Euro ’92 that summer.

“We played quite a few games where we had to work hard to break down the opposition at Lyngby. But, as I say, I always enjoyed that side of the game. It was invaluable for my development.”

Ange Postecoglou has introduced an attacking style of football at Celtic since arriving in Glasgow in the summer and his men have frequently impressed going forward, both domestically and in Europe, this season.

However, when Postecoglou’s players have come up against adversaries who are prepared to put all 10 men behind the ball they have occasionally struggled and dropped precious cinch Premiership points. 

In the league meeting with Livingston at Parkhead at the end of last month they were unable to find a way through visitors who seldom ventured over the halfway line and were held to a 0-0 draw.

Callum McGregor, James Forrest, Stephen Welsh, Greg Taylor, Nir Bitton, Tom Rogic and Anthony Ralston are accustomed to it having spent years in the East End. But it is completely new to the likes of Cameron Carter-Vickers, Carl Starfelt, Josip Juranovic, James McCarthy, Jota, Liel Abada and Kyogo Furuhashi.

Since the disappointment against David Martindale’s men, though, McGregor and his team mates have overcome two rivals who have adopted identical tactics.

They beat St Johnstone 1-0 in the Premier Sports Cup semi-final at Hampden earlier this month and then edged out Aberdeen 2-1 in the Premiership at Parkhead on Sunday.

The victory at the weekend meant Celtic moved to within four points of league leaders Rangers again and maintained the pressure on their city rivals.

Wieghorst, who helped Wim Jansen’s side win the Premier League in 1998 and prevent the Ibrox club from making Scottish football history by completing 10-In-A-Row, knows it is a vital skill which will prove invaluable as the title race intensifies in the coming months. 

“You have to master that side of the game when you are at Celtic,” he said. “You have to get used to having all the possession and being under pressure to break down your opponents. But I think the current team appears to be doing that now. 

“What you have to remember is that even in a game where only one team is trying to create there will always be phases where you can hit the other team on the counter. It happens when they come forward for set pieces or whatever. They do have to push upfield at times, especially if they fall behind.

“I know always liked trying to find my team mates with passes when they were outnumbered in the final third and there are many players in this current Celtic team who have the ability to do that.”

 

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