Hoops need miracle in Mestalla after Cheryshev and Sobrino goals
IT was Valentine’s Day but Valencia’s night.
This silky smooth Spanish side didn’t even need to buy dinner and chocolates to know they were on to a sure thing.
Two slick moves did the trick at Celtic Park.
Forget red roses – Marcelino’s men left Brendan Rodgers’ defence with red faces in this first-leg defeat.
It didn’t flatter them either.
Denis Cheryshev and Ruben Sobrino scored the two goals that was enough to leave the Scottish champions gutted.
Celts travel to Spain next week now with it all to do.
But in the cold light of day it’s hard to imagine Rodgers’ side are going to be capable of testing this classy outfit.
They may be eighth in La Liga but Valencia showed just why they’ve held giants Barcelona to two draws already this season.
Celtic just couldn’t have any complaints at time up having been ruthlessly beaten by a team on a different level.
In the build-up Rodgers urged his side to have belief.
Tactically when the game kicked off they had to be brave.
Playing with two men up front, Valencia were eager to press the Celtic defence high up the pitch and force errors.
But Rodgers’ game-plan was centred around being calm under pressure.
Celtic tried to suck the Spanish side in and then attack them with pace after breaking through their first line of men.
It just didn’t work.
Was it down to nerves and tension on such a big night? Who knows.
Fact is, this impressive La Liga side sensed Celtic’s vulnerability and went looking to capitalise on it.
Valencia were simply far more composed and relaxed on the ball from start to finish.
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Skipper Daniel Parejo isn’t exactly a household name.
But for 45 minutes before he was substituted, the midfielder, who has both Real Madrid and QPR on his CV, swaggered around Celtic Park oozing class.
It didn’t help that Scott Brown chose this game as one of his worst of the season.
The midfielder is usually so reliable on the ball and such an influential and calming figure.
But he was so unexpectedly slack in possession.
Emilio Izaguirre returned to the side from injury but he was another one who struggled badly on and off the ball.
It was actually hard to pick out a Celtic player who did himself justice.
It was no lack of effort on anyone’s part – Valencia just weren’t ever made to look like they were in any real danger.
You almost had to feel sorry for Oliver Burke in the first half, as he did all the running demanded of him up front as Celtic’s striker.
But when it was played up to him he was just so isolated and outnumbered there was almost nothing he could do to make an impact.
Burke was almost through on goal at 0-0 but the ball forward from Scott Sinclair was just a little bit too heavy.
Earlier on Callum McGregor had a shot that Valencia No1 Neto saved easily.
There was just no getting away from it at the interval, the visitors deserved the lead they took into the away changing room.
Celtic fans inside the stadium were convinced their opening goal shouldn’t have stood.
And to be fair, at first viewing it seemed like Ruben Sobrino was offside when playmaker Parejo sent him scarpering through on goal with a sublime pass from midfield.
But the linesman’s flag rightly stayed down.
Sobrino could have fired at goal to score himself but instead opted to draw Scott Bain out to him before rolling the ball to his right for Cheryshev to net a tap-in.
The change Valencia made at the interval didn’t initially look like it would do Celtic any harm as captain Parejo was replaced by former Arsenal man Francis Coquelin.
But just three minutes into the second half the Frenchman powered through a weak challenge from Brown in the middle of the park.
In a flash the ball was played down the left where scorer Cheryshev crossed brilliantly into the Celtic six-yard box.
It couldn’t have been delivered any better with attacker Sobrino in the right place at the right time to blast a volley past Bain.
Again, there was screams for offside with the home fans sitting in line with the attack convinced the flag should have gone up.
But centre half Jozo Simunovic was the man who played everyone on.