A game that started and ended in a torrent of noise. The important part, however, was what happened in between. Three second-half goals and an impeccable display of possession in the second half gave Real Madrid the perfect start to their title defence. Was it deserved, did it run the course of the game, did it make sense? For Madrid, these are questions they have long ceased to worry about. It’s just what they do. They come into your house, sniff the air, then take what they came for.
For Celtic, a valuable learning experience at the highest level. The roar of pride and conviction that greeted them at the final whistle was a deserved salvation for a team that had left every fragment of itself on this Parkhead pitch.
They had been running, jostling and competing with this great Madrid team for almost an hour. If they had managed to try their luck, they might even have won. But in this rarefied air are the narrow hinges of success and failure. Celtic knew where to start. Madrid knew how to finish.
“The first goal was always going to be important,” lamented Ange Postecoglou, who refused to be too encouraged by the performance. Because it’s a side that grows, a side that learns, a side that is still getting used to this kind of challenge.
Above all, they will remember the incredible wave of noise and fervor that started this game, when the night still seemed alive with color and possibility. The East End was waiting for this. Five years for the Champions League proper, nine since their last home group stage win, and the classic anthems have been greeted with tremendous uproar from a crowd that senses their side can once again be capable of greatness.
Celtic came to play. They didn’t charge recklessly into play, they didn’t just hack long balls into the returning Giorgos Giakoumakis. Postecoglou taught them better than that. Instead, they passed him deliberately in midfield, waited for Madrid’s possession spells, tried to hit the wide open spaces behind their high line. Reo Hatate even had the audacity to dispossess the great Luka Modric when he wavered on the ball in his own half. Back and forth, Celtic showed the 14-time champions a magnificent lack of respect.
There were chances too, good chances: a pair for Liel Abada, a pair for Hatate, a shot from the captain, Callum McGregor, which cracked against the inside of the post. Madrid were further baffled by an early injury to Karim Benzema, who suffered a knee blow, limped off for a while and eventually left Eden Hazard.
So Real retreated to their tried and true patterns: Toni Kroos moved to left-back, Ferland Mendy got up to support Vinícius Jr, and all of a sudden Real had a ticking time bomb on that. flank. If the left wing is their chaos, the right wing is their sanity: Modric and Fede Valverde are steadily building up the game, probing the gaps, always off balance, always tilting the pitch.
Over time, order was established. Madrid finished the first half stronger and never gave up that feeling of control. The rusty Hazard was gradually discovering rhythm and was involved in the counter-attack which produced the first goal.
Valverde darted down the right and rolled the ball into an empty penalty area. He knew, without looking, that Vinícius would gallop through space at Shinkansen speed to apply the finish.
As Celtic dealt that crushing blow, Madrid dealt them another. The increasingly influential Modric received the ball from Hazard after a collision between Giakoumakis and Cameron Carter-Vickers. Moritz Jenz put a toe on the ball but fell good for Modric a second time, deflecting the ball past Joe Hart with a kick that puts most players to shame.
And here’s the thing about Carlo Ancelotti: even when you think you’ve tamed them, pinned them down, under control, they can rear up on you like a spitting cobra. All Postecoglou could do was squirt fresh blood, but as Aaron Mooy and Kyogo Furuhashi took the stage, Ancelotti simply threw Eduardo Camavinga, Marco Asensio and Rodrygo into a show of imperial force.
Hazard tapped in a farewell third after an elementary passing move and briefly quieted the stands which had previously been shaking with noise. But there was enough vigor and promise here to suggest Celtic won’t be silent for long.
Eden Hazard completes Real Madrid’s devastating second-half blitz at Celtic