4 at the back, Shane, Neil and Gordon


We got a fascinating insight into the complex layers of management through comments before, during and after the game from Gordon Strachan, and post-match from Neil Lennon.  Before kick-off, Gordon was asked about Neil’s decision to play three at the back, a formation that was exploited at the weekend (and praised by me last month).

Our former boss, once manager to Neil Lennon, father of Gavin, now a Celtic first team coach, deflected.  “I’m not the manager.”  Gordon was there as a pundit, but pulled his punch on this occasion and again at halftime.  After the second half, when Celtic improved significantly with four at the back, Gordon declined to judge the starting formation harshly, postulating that we will never know what would have happened had Celtic started with four at the back.

Then Neil Lennon explained what Gordon Strachan almost certainly knew before the match.  His choice was not to start with three at the back, but he did not have fit personnel to start and play the majority of a game with four in defence, specifically, a wide right forward.  Ryan Christie was not allowed to leave his home for two weeks, at this level, that is a long time without training.

A few weeks ago, we discussed that it was absurd that tens of thousands of Celtic fans knew something to be an absolute truth, which Neil Lennon was oblivious to (think central mid).  We agreed (I’m sure we did) that this is nonsense.  Instead, we had to accept that the manager sees complex layers that we do not.  Who knew there were concerns about the match fitness of Ryan Christie, apart from Gordon Strachan, of course?

It will be four at the back whenever fitness permits.  The two central defenders will be Kristoffer Ajer (who was immense last night) and Christopher Jullien.  Shane Duffy is struggling.  At 28, there is plenty of fuel in the tank, so he may find form, but right now he looks like a player on the bus out of Brighton.  Some you win.

In football, or in life generally, the direction of travel is often more important that your absolute position.  Are things getting better, or are they getting worse?  Therein lies whatever consolation there was in defeat to a superior Milan last night.  It was still a defeat, but losing to a better team while competing for large periods of the game, is better than being schooled by a team of never-won-anythings.

We did no more to Milan than Motherwell will do to us next month, but that direction of travel offers some consolation ahead of Sunday.

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  1. The Battered Bunnet on

    Yip, pretty balanced Paul.



    3-5-2 died 15 years ago.



    Naebdy plays wingers and wins in the top competitions.



    Mobility, technique and brains are the currency of football today, and the tighter you can pack them in together, the more effective they are.

  2. Injuries apart, our entire coaching set up remains imperfect.



    Since our managerial announcements have become more shampoo than champagne, we have been in a slow decline.



    Like any downward graph, we have seen a few peaks, though the regression is clear.



    Genuine question – will our management team (Lennon, Kennedy, Strachan) work together again? I would suggest they won’t.



    Why, then, are they together with us?

  3. So Paul, the reason(s) we’ve been pants over previous games are due to complex, behind the scene reasons – mainly fitness? Hmmmm


    I took a bit of heart from last night – I also expect a win Sunday – but one swallow does not make a summer.

  4. Pingback: 4 at the back, Shane, Neil and Gordon Paul67 - Celtic FC News Aggregation

  5. Sorry but reposting from prev article as I think it relates to the article:


    We have a better squad but currently a worse team than when we played Milan when Lenny was a lion.



    CHAIRBOY: Thanks for reminding us about those grand ‘old’ Celtic teams:


    But when I see last night’s team and squad, I don’t see evidence of the claimed downsizing or degrading.



    I don’t see how our old defences – Telfer, McManus, O’Dea and Naylor is anywhere near the quality of our best available defence: Elhamed, Jullien, Ajer and Laxalt.



    Mid’s too – Naka, Lenny, Sno, McGeady – is just one man better than: Ntcham, Brown, McGregor, Christie.



    Up front: Jan Vennegoor and Jarosik were/are inferior to an ebullient Eddy and a fit and firing Forrest.



    Two areas of true current concern: In goals, our best ever modern keepers have been Fraser F and Artur B:



    The current glovekeeper is struggling to convince many of us he’s worth 5m and the odd private jet ride.



    I suggest we were clearly better coached, managed and trained when we took Milan to the wire back in the day.



  6. The Blogger Formerly Known As GM on

    I doubt many were expecting a result last night, but all were looking for improvement.



    Thankfully there was some.



    Every journey starts with the first step.



    The performance gives us hope.

  7. Paul 67,



    Non controversial article.



    Re Shane Duffy. ” Looks like a player on the bus out of Brighton ”



    Why is this : Voted Brighton POTY in 2018 /19 and a ROI regular. Playing regularly against some of the best players in the world.



    This was not a knee eject signing. It was a long protracted process and I must assume we carried out our homework diligently.



    Did we not think how we would deploy Shane ? Did we not plan what system Shane would fit into.?


    Did we not plan what players he would be playing alongside ?



    Shane Duffy did not become a poor player overnight. He did not fit into Brighton’s changed philosophy of playing football on the deck.



    We knew all this and my feeling is Shane Duffy is not letting us down, perhaps we are letting Shane down and we should be looking closer to home.



    Our tactics, our formations, our coaching and our management must be questioned.



    Shane Duffy is not the only player regressing and Callum McGregor springs to mind without thinking.



    Nothing stays the same and change is always inevitable. It’s called evolution.



    HH to all.

  8. Duffy was excellent for the Republic, in a couple of games last week, who play a back 4,maybe that’s the difference.

  9. 67 — you hint at questions but you do not push for answers.



    Why was RC the only person we could play at wide RM?


    We have a surplus of MF talent at the moment and to suggest that RC was the only one is not taking your audience seriously.



    Then you have the squad make up / squad development angle.


    If we have gaps then they should be filled and if we lose players to injury then we should have a back up.



    Consequently your analysis is pretty poor.



    Looking at what we had and who could play where — we had enough players to play a flat back 4 and push JF and DL into the MF if that was required.

  10. The case for the defence.



    Out from behind the couch to face the world, after getting ripped by an early, middle and late goal the mini fightback wasn’t enough for Neil Lennon’s shake off the new sieve label. Shane Duffy and sacrificial lamb Stephen Welsh had a torrid night, with so many injuries, there was nothing much by way of alternatives, hopefully they are both fit for Sunday. Diego Laxalt was decent and I’d like to see him play orthodox attacking full back, as part of a four.



    Christie’s reintroduction helped the cause El Younoussi, Tom Rogic, and Ajeti looked brighter, but when you’re hamstrung with a flawed format, in which you know that certain players are going to repeat, you’ve no chance.



    The most annoying thing about Shane Duffy is that, he is all there is at the moment, in goal the big Athenian Fenian apparently is now plain Doris De Greece. Hopefully, we’ve finally seen the last of a back three, which last night verse any Milan was insane, please pick any two centre backs and pick any two full backs.






    4 – 5 – 1 would have fared better in the last two games, with the players available, ditch the 3 at the back then we’ll see if its about players, formations, coaches, or managers



    Celtic’s season has to start on Sunday.

  11. Scariest element of last night was the performance and attitude of DL.


    He was head and shoulders the most comfortable / capable / combative performer in our team.



    Unfortunately a couple of months at CP and he will regress to an older / slower version of GT.



    That is our issue — the dressing room is a black hole for footballing energy and our coaching staff is not even SPL / lower half quality or quantity.

  12. I think Duffy is struggling in a back 3 and playing the centre of that he had Welsh and Frimpong to look after while Ajer who had a good game had less onerous a task with Laxalt to his left.



    Our midfield seem to struggle playing 3-5-2 because we’ve no idea how to protect our exposed CBs.



    I’ll judge Duffy when we’re a back 4 and he has El Hamed playing as his RB.



    Anyone prepared to write Duffy off at this stage isn’t being objective.

  13. Is Karamoko likely to feature at all this season ? Not suggesting the last 2 games would have been suitable, but maybe an option against some of the others ?

  14. Can we stop trying to shoehorn Duffy into the team blaming systems and personnel . he’s slow, ponderous and downright embarrassing at times. Who cares what he did at Brighton,



    I would play Welsh and Ajer on Sunday



    Duffy shouldn’t kick another ball in anger .he has been a disaster,

  15. The Blogger Formerly Known As GM on

    Here we go, people refusing to believe their eyes because the guy’s the Ireland captain and supports Celtic..



    It’s up there with the logic that Neil Lennon is beyond reproach because his middle name is Francis.

  16. GP @ 12.28



    Just for you — recycling from an hour ago.


    Just my thoughts on the enigma that is SD in the hoops.






    SD has the look of someone who has not settled down to a routine in a new environment.



    He needs three square meals a day.


    The love of a good woman or the scolding of a bad one..


    He needs a routine and a settled bed time for a good night’s sleep.



    He currently has the look of a salary man away on a week long residential training course.


    Hopefully things will calm down in the near future but he does not look settled.



    He is a better player than he is currently showing for us.


    However like too many at the moment he has been caught up in the malaise at CP.

  17. If you look at the 3rd goal last night, massive gap between Duffy and Frimpong. Maybe 30 yards. Duffy is used to playing in a more compact system, had the right back tucked in he would have seen the danger. Duffy was made to look foolish because his lack of pace was exposed in a system not suited to his game. We were chasing the game at that point but the principle remains.

  18. PeterLatchfordsBelly on

    Glad we’re on a journey, because it feels very much like a car crash to me. One I was not expecting.



    I’ve lost a lot of faith in the driver and hopefully we won’t need to call the fire brigade on Sunday to cut us out a wreck of our own making.

  19. AN DÚN @ 11:21 AM,



    Of course, I accept all you say but my point was a simple one really.



    What constitues the grounded Celtic supporter, the one that is hugely concerned about the standing of our Club, the current malaise within the squad, the embarrassing performance against Newco.



    Or the supporter who is swallowing the excuses, the excuses we’ve heard for many a long season, who thinks beating Aberdeen at Pittodrie on Sunday will somehow right all the wrongs or absolve those who brought our Club to it’s knees when we should have been celebrating a historic season.



    MADMITCH @ 11:31 AM,



    That was partly my point and why I put the teams up.



    In some ways that squad seemed to be working on muscle memory, aware of what had recently been achieved and the high expectations.



    Just as with Man U, the quality of players like Nakamura and Boruc can make a huge difference. Big personalities, a large and structured back room operation. But the personel are certainly interesting – especially the sieve:))



    A football club is a lot more than the eleven strarters.



    My hope is this season is the end of an era and PL goes. Then there will be some true analysis of where we were when he took over. Relative turnover, the teams achievements and our standing in Europe. Our fledgling academy projected to be top class, our business model which was in place already, our ahead of the curve technology and media offerings.



    My feeling when the smoke’n mirrors have gone and the PL era is finished and fholk take a cold hard look, the conclusion will match what you have been saying for many a long year.



    Coneybhoy @ 11:32,



    Yes the last sixteen one, great trip and great atmosphere.



    Yes, it was an incredibly disciplined performance, think everyone who pulled on a Jersey that evening knew what it meant to wear the hoops and be a professional footballer for Celtic.



    We could certainly hold our heads up and take the plaudits from the Milan fans who had loved the evening!!



    Crazy as it sounds, I don’t think we appreciated just how good Naka was.






    Thanks for the considered reply, as you know, we have a saying at Celtic – if you know your history, it’s incredibly important to who we are.



    Yet we are talking about games our Manager and Captain played in – not Jimmy McGrory and Charlie Tully. We had great performances in the 60s, the 70s, the 80s even the lows of the 90s. Certainly acheiveing heights in the noughties.



    This isn’t history I’m talking about, this is what it means to be Celtic!!



    But to your very good point abiut the teams, as stated in my reply to MM, the very reason I put up teams was to compare and contrast.



    The downsizing takes many different facets, it’s the sum off all those things that make us a much, much poorer Club.



    What has downsized…



    Our ambition, what Celtic can be expected to achieve, the supporters expectations have been managed to such an extent that a newco thrashing is ok.



    The percentage of turnover reinvested in the football operation, the Board take a huge chunk out for the business!?



    The backroom structure, the quality of manager the coaching and specialist set up, the scouting set up, the facilities, the academy set up, the football club Chairman and executive – replaced by PLC apperachiks. Celtic was a huge footballing operation.



    Our investment in the squad, the medium and long term planning and strategy to ensure continuity of players and coaching set up.



    A couple of extra points, our squad building and reputation has beenhugely damaged by players trading, agent horse trading and prospects. It wasn’t designed to create a furst rate Celtic team it was designed to find new income streams and make money for the PLC



    So as football Clubs around Europe see unparalleled professionalism in their set up, we have become a one man and his dog operation.



    Thanks for the replies… I’m hoping for a great performance on Sunday, it will of course change little other than our mood, we do have the players, and especially these days that’s important.



    Aff oot now…



    Hail Hail

  20. Duffy will settle as will the team. Sunday is a tough one but we will come through this period. There is such a long way to go.

  21. 67 European Cup Winners on

    Last nigh did nothing to change my view – we. Continue to look vulnerable


    I lay the responsibility for that at our Manager (who is and always will be a legend) but our performances this season are not of a team destined to win the league (our first objective IMHO)


    Although my view starts with NL I get curious about the performance of Ajer and Ntcham last night – were they playIng for Celtic or were they playing for a move


    This curiosity lends to a sympathetic view to our Managers task – but if you want to manage Celtic this task is part of the job description


    I Hope our manager can get a positive reaction (regardless of formation) on Sunday


    If he does not I sense a hard six months for us all and a difficult Monday for him.







    Your faith in the fire brigade is touching given their past performances in such circustances.

  23. Shane Duffy is what Shane Duffy offers – a big, old-fashioned bruiser, who is slow of turn and average of football. Great at attacking headers and a threat at set pieces.



    He’s being asked to play as the central, creative fulcrum in the middle of defence. It’s alien to him. He’s playing below par (looks utterly out of form) but I don’t think there is some massive jump in output to come despite what the irish contingent will tell you. It’s compounding our game as his lack of confidence means he just passes it off to the equally uncreative Scott Brown and around the mulberry bush we go.



    An odd, reactive signing that seemed to come from his availability, his percieved leadership qualities (rather than his footballing ones) and a ‘blood and snotter’ problems with local fat forwards but if you are operating within a frame where tactics and formation come second to imaginary powers of leadership then this is what you’ll get I’m afraid.




  24. ‘In football, or in life generally, the direction of travel is often more important that your absolute position.  Are things getting better, or are they getting worse?’



    If your frame of reference is the last week, then things have improved.



    However, any wider review clearly shows the club moving backwards.

  25. 67 EUROPEAN CUP WINNERS on 23RD OCTOBER 2020 12:50 PM




    ‘ Ajer and Ntcham last night – were they playIng for Celtic or were they playing for a move’






    Does it really matter anymore?



    The reality is that Celtic are barely a mid tier football club in European terms and any ambitious player with enough talent is going to want to move on to something bigger and better. That’s just the way it is.

  26. DAVID17 on 23RD OCTOBER 2020 12:47 PM


    If you look at the 3rd goal last night, massive gap between Duffy and Frimpong. Maybe 30 yards. Duffy is used to playing in a more compact system, had the right back tucked in he would have seen the danger. Duffy was made to look foolish because his lack of pace was exposed in a system not suited to his game. We were chasing the game at that point but the principle remains.





    Have a look at the Bulgaria goal against Ireland last month. Duffy completly caught out with pace and positioning, like he’s several steps behind the game. Looked a carbon copy of last night.



    He’s just not very good fella. Pains me to say it as we needed a good CH this summer.

  27. Just when you thought you can’t get any worse than PL — up steps Not Jacinda to talk about CoViD19.



    She is a slow learner with delusions of adequacy — completely out of her depth.


    She only looks good because BoJo is even worse.

  28. TBB



    “the big difference was the withdrawal of the two wide players and the introduction of Christie and Moi narrow behind Ajeti.”



    We withdrew Stepehen Welsh (one of the back 3) and Griff, one of the front two. As far as I could see we withdrew no “wide” men, unless we are using the word in its Glaswegian colloquial sense, in which case it might apply to Leigh.



    I am swimming against the grain, once more, in my observations of last night. I am told we reverted to a back 4. Maybe when Greg Taylor came on and everyone became too tired to go forward we had a back 4 . But I still saw Frimpong and Laxalt so far up the park, they were taking it in turns to form a front 3 or with Christie, Elyounoussi, and Ajeti/Klimala. They remained more advanced than Brown and McGregor and, often Ntcham too. They were not in the picture when Duffy concede the 3rd. and it was the screening McGregor who got back to be auxiliary CB when we conceded the 2nd.



    My best guess at our 2nd half formation last night was



    2:2:4:1:1 with a very ragged 4



    We had Duffy and AJer at the back, Brown and McGregor screening, Frimpong & Laxalt being, at least as advanced as Ntcham and ELyounoussi, with Christie joining the midfield and Ajeti/Klimala.



    Of course. WGS will recommend 4:4:2. It makes us harder to beat which was WGS ‘s identity for Celtic. It is not, necessarily the best formula for winning the SPFL against teams that defend in the Craig Levein fashion with 2 banks of 5, hoping to win 1:0 on a rare counter attack.



    We still have a dilemma about producing a team fordomestic games and one for Europe. We need to get the ball forward quicker in Europe (yes, it helps in the domestic game too) but we don’t get the counter attack options quite so much in the passive domestic game so we need that width to play our stretching, passing game (and, yes it gets overdone, but it is necessary and helpful- we just need to do more of it outwith the back 3 or 4 players).



    I am with Neil on the over-emphasis on tactics. 3:5:2 only regularly loses to 4:4:2 or 4:4:3 or any other variant when a computer programmer builds in an algorithm to make it probable.



    In the real world, it is adaptable and intelligent players who win games by being brave in possession, being willing to take on a man, and being wiling occasionally to attempt a slip pass.



    In short, if we play narrow, we counter a narrow opposition.



    Until they introduce width and we get exposed again. And that leaves you always reacting , often when it is too late.



    When I talked of the club having an identity in its style at football, I was not referring to 4:4:2 as opposed to 3:5:2. Our club needs to be able to play all formations, as circumstances dictate, including playing with only 10 men in the formation, as the dinosaur coach that is NFL, once let us know we had practised for.



    If we revert to a more disciplined 4:4:2, we potentially lose a lot of the attacking potential of a Laxalt or Frimpong, unless we are going to move them to RM and LM, which begs the question who is going to form our back 4?



    Do we really want to move Ajer to RB and make do with Taylor?



    Not for me.



    There are other ways to tighten a defence, than adding one more to the back line.



    Too many of our Centre midfielders are attack minded, even McGregor and Nycham whom we think of as options for screening the defence.



    I would argue that only Broony, and he has had to adapt to it late in his career, the untried Soro and the departed on loan Robertson, have the skill set to help the Centre halfs.



    I looked with envy at AC Milan’s, Kessié, last night. Have to say I was fairly ignorant of his qualities but a player like him- preferably 2 of them, might help and let McGregor, Ntcham and Turnbull attack to their heart’s delight.

  29. Didn’t we play 4-5-1 in the two games against Sevco last year when we were outplayed?



    Switching formation isn’t a panacea.



    3-5-2 could (and has) worked before, but you can’t play that system effectively if Shane Duffy and Broony are the two players who will get the most touches of the ball.



    From what I’ve read of the game, things improved in the 2nd half when Broony went off. If the last two games show anything, the much vaunted leadership qualities were pretty ineffective.



    Scott should not be starting any domestic game where we are the front foot. We need to attack teams and get our goal tally up. We aren’t achieving that with Scott at the base of midfield.

  30. Melbourne Mick on




    Really can’t argue with that, and kudos for a constructive critique.


    But and there’s always a but lol, if you read back i don’t think the


    Irish contingent have been too complimentary.


    However i’d wait and see what the big bhoy can deliver when we


    get all our players back, a settled system, and a good shagging of


    the sheep.


    H H. Mick

  31. SFTB,



    “I looked with envy at AC Milan’s, Kessié, last night. Have to say I was fairly ignorant of his qualities but a player like him- preferably 2 of them, might help and let McGregor, Ntcham and Turnbull attack to their heart’s delight.”





    Kessie deserved him MOTM last night.



    Even if it were possible to sign him would our ” coaching ” make him regress ?



    Imo , there lies the problem.



    HH to you.

  32. Good defenders are good defenders doesn’t matter if it’s 3 or 4 at the back. Duffy’s a journeyman who did well to get out of England…and there’s a reason why nobody wanted him down south. Good luck to the boy, but from what I’ve seen, he wouldn’t get a game for Morton.

  33. lets all do the huddle on

    “4 at the back, Shane, Neil and Gordon”





    not sure about pauls headline



    for a start thats only 3



    and im not sure how playing neil and gordon will help shane



    they are both too old to cover for his lack of pace

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