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. Go tell the Spartim on

    I tend not to write anyone off. Simple question what is the reason for SD shocking passing ability he plays football practically every day, is that celtics fault is that what he’s being coached at training?

  2. Back to Basics - Glass Half Full on




    Actually think this is a decent article Paul.



    Thank you.



    But it’s a bloody expensive bus out of Brighton we’ve just caught.



    Treadmill time for the out of shape arrival.



    Break clause in loan agreement to be checked.

  3. weebobbycollins on

    “….but right now he looks like a player on the bus out of Brighton.”


    Perhaps it would be better for all if he were on the bus back to Brighton…

  4. Kessie was exactly what we need in CM. Now before being shouted down I appreciate he was to be found 3/4 years ago and developed a la Victor Wanyama and not now where he is a £30m talent and rising.



    Saying that we have skooshed millions on Eboue and Soro and come no closer to finding one to play there.



    Too reliant on a club legend like Scott Brown at one end and too poor at scouting at the other.




  5. Melbourne Mick on




    Maybe you’re right, but just maybe the weight of being the messiah


    is hanging over him.


    You are old enough to remember our greatest ever captain and centre


    half being covered very frequently by a wee quiet ghuy at the back


    always mopped up big Billys mistakes and to this day never gets the


    credit he deserved.


    Yes, the incomparable John Clark.


    H.H. Mick

  6. So we’ll only play 442 if Christie and Forrest are fit, hate to agree with MM but I’m not buying that.



    Our line up against Aberdeen is going to be very interesting.



    I get the impression that Lenny doesn’t know what formation or which players to pick, and each defeat or poor performance ends up giving him even more questions.

  7. The Battered Bunnet on

    SFTB – withdraw as in ‘more withdrawn’, pulled back from the front. In the second half they had a player ahead of them. They continued to provide the width when attacking. But you knew that, and lobbed in a little pedantry to provide a Friday lunchtime vex :¬)

  8. I really really do try to stay positive.



    In most other areas, I am.



    However, we seem to be arguing over very tactical points, whilst our strategic direction is unclear. We’re addressing symptoms here.



    We have been very lax in our approach and we have allowed our closest competitor to get beyond us.



    As I mentioned, whose managerial team would be in greatest demand today?



    Lennon / Kennedy / Strachan



    Gerrard / McAllister / other guy (who seems to get a lot of credit)



    Why was this allowed to happen? Who was asleep at the wheel? What plans do we have to redress the balance?



    Or, as Ernie offered, is the plan to do nothing and hope that things sort themselves.



    After all, we did something similar 9 years ago.

  9. weebobbycollins on

    Leadership is required at the back…we need someone to marshal the defence and help our goalie as well. Barkas needs time…he needs to be able to shout at defenders like Gordon and Forster did, as part of a unit. At the moment only Ajer seems vocal…



    Melbourne Mick…indeed I remember the work of the Brush, quiet, tough and very, very effective.

  10. TBB



    “But you knew that, and lobbed in a little pedantry to provide a Friday lunchtime vex :¬)”



    Not quite!. There is a genuine point in there. Laxalt and Frimpong did as much, if not more, attacking, in the 2nd half than the first. They were rarely seen in defensive duties so I did not discern this famed back 4 that others saw. Where were they when the 3rd goal was scored? Can you recall a Frimpong tackle or a Laxalt tackle near our penalty area?

  11. Thought Ntcham had a poor 1st half last night, only coming into game when AC Milan took foot off, and Celtic made changes with Christie and Rogic


    Team for Sunday for me











    Duffy (we have no one else at present)


















    We need to add energy and pace into midfield, hence Turnbull added


    Rogic to create, behind a front 2 that will run and create gaps

  12. The Battered Bunnet on

    SFTB, “Laxalt and Frimpong did as much, if not more, attacking, in the 2nd half than the first.”



    Quite. In the same way that full backs provide the attacking width in so many pressing teams. That’s part of the job. It’s a shuffle and block when defending though, or it ought to be – as Frimpong will doubtless have been reminded (again) after the match.

  13. Melbourne Mick on




    The Brush, ha..ha i was trying so hard to remember that nickname


    for a real legend, always remember the fists up ready to fight onybody


    in the game against Athletico, or was it yon South American team?


    Anyhows, the most underrated player ever at Celtic park.


    H.H. Mick

  14. Whilst I appreciate the jist of the article, I don’t think it holds up to much scrutiny. 3-5-2 was the craved for magic bullet with the same players a few months ago. What’s changed? And really – basing a need for 4-4-2 which we’ve been minging at throughout Lenny’s second sting based on 20 minutes of barely acceptable football seems to be more a desperate clutching of straws and kicking the inevitable conclusion a wee bit farther down the street.



    We didn’t look better because the formation changed. We looked OK because Milan switched off. The were so far ahead technically and 2 goals to the good that the slipped into damage avoidance mode. And based on the final score, it was job done.



    Prediction: Gordon Strachan will be caretaker manager soon enough. Because in the absence of some lucky inspiration we’re incapable of planning ahead in an intelligent manner. It’s the end of an era, and we’ve been so gulled into complacency that we assume superiority in the face of all available evidence.



    In a year we should be loving, I’m absolutely hating football at the moment, and getting to the point I dread our upcoming games.




  15. Cannot understand why people are still putting Frimpong in their team for Sunday.He is not very good at defending.Very prone to being careless with passes in very dangerous areas.He has tremendous pace going forward,but since the season started,after beating his man ,and getting to the byeline,his final ball,has been appalling.His normal crossing is weak,and very rarely beats the first man.His shooting is woeful.He seems to lack power.This might seem harsh,but its true.There is a great talent there,but it needs coached in all of these areas.Bringing him on for the last 30 minutes at Celtic Park,when we are 3 up,should be his role this season.


    When we are trying to tighten our defence,without our regular defensive players,I see no place for him.

  16. Turkeybhoy


    Can you name another fit rightback to replace Frimpong ??


    Bitton & Elhammed both out



    Could we play Anthony Ralston ?? Or Stephen Welsh at right back ???

  17. Greenpinata



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


    Imo , there lies the problem. ”



    It has become a popular refrain on here but I don’t buy it.



    Our coaching did not harm the development of Wanyama, Ki Sung Yueng, Fraser Forster, Virgil Van Dijk, Stuart Armstrong or Kieran Tierney who all went for big money.



    It is not harming the career prospects of Ajer, whom AC are interested in, or Ntcham, wanted by Porto and Marseilles. It has not harmed the career path of Jeremie Frimpong or Albian Ajeti who will attract bids if they keep playing like this. Nor did it harm Ryan Christie or Callum McGregor who will get EPL bids too as they have made year by year improvements (even when they have a 4 or 5 match spell where they look a lot less than stellar.



    That argument about the abject weakness of our coaching is one of those “catch all ” theories that we invest in.



    You know, all the bad buys were made by Peter Lawwell and the good players were bought by the manager himself.



    We look at a player like Arzani, who was injured all the time he was with us and we blame the coach for not playing him and aiding his development. Yet he goes on to Utrecht and has ony appeared a s a late sub for them so far and has not made one starting appearnace. Similarly Shved, whom we all had high hopes for, Mechelen are 10 games into the season and he has started no games, has missed several squad selections and has only made 3 short sub appearances.



    I did not bother looking up Kouassi but I don’t expect he is doing much better.



    These guys did not make it here- we did not make them worse. They just failed to make the step up to the standards we have.

  18. so if 4 at the back doesn’t work due to the quality of our current defenders , do we then go to a back 5 , we have to be get a defensive coach on board urgently or we will continue with the woeful defending we are watching wether we play any amount of defenders at the back




    It worse than that, you could argue we’re playing three at the back to accommodate Frimpong in a five.



    We did the same with Taylor on the left, if only we’d bought ‘Full Backs’ played them there, Duffy would then have at least been in a system where he didn’t stick out like a sore thumb.





    Woman can get a pill to help with PMT .Why don’t you see if they do a pill for men with same problem. You have done the “i hate nikla to death bit”. KISS AFF.

  21. imo both frimpong and laxalt are not suited to the full back roll in a back 4 and are better played further up wide in midfield were they will more damage going forward

  22. SFTB @ 2.09



    Admittedly you never had it to begin with but you are clearly losing it now.


    Sweeping generalisations covering a number of different situations — all in the one post.



    The issue about coaching is in the here and now — not 8 / 6 / 4 / 2 years ago.


    The issue with the scattergun recruitment policy is in the here and now — and last season.


    Given the standard of play this season — nobody has to make a step up to our level.


    All they have to do is just down in the swamp we have made for ourselves.



    Ajer is being talked out of playing at CP by his NT manager because of the standard of football we play and also the quality or lack of it of the local opposition. One is bad but two are terminal regarding his future with us.



    If we had a CL / EuL reputation then that would help but too many just care about the SPL and wonder why we are regressing at a rate of knots as we replace a seasoned big name manager with a local worthy.



    Our coaching at the moment stinks and it shows up in our performance levels.


    Talent can overcome a lack of coaching but that is a very wasteful path to go down.



    The teams you mention that are hovering over our players at the moment are bottom feeding knowing that they have the chance to get a player once they have washed away all the mediocrity they have picked up over the past 18 months.

  23. The Battered Bunnet on

    Duffy’s problems can’t all be accounted for by his (apparent) unfamiliarity with a back 3.



    I’m thinking for example of his aptness to misjudge the long ball, to jump under the cross, to stand off the attacker; The basic good judgement required of a defender.



    I’m trying to be charitable, but it’s difficult when we have lost 5 goals in our two most recent matches, both important fixtures, and he’s culpable at every goal.

  24. FU @ 2.19



    Away oot and play tig with the buses ya zoomer.


    Or failing that tie a banner to a bridge and howl at the English moon.

  25. Back to Basics - Glass Half Full on

    Elhamed (once fit) gets my vote as the 4th of 4 defenders.



    Can do full back well enough and can also tuck in “round the corner” to make a three when Diego is advancing.



    Being saying this for weeks about Frimpong. There is certainly a player in there, but needs a lot of coaching, which unfortunately he is not getting at the moment.


    Would actually play either Ralston or Welsh before him at right back. At least they are defenders.



    Thought the boy Kessie was immense last night reminded me of Ya Ya Toure

  27. In January of this year the received wisdom was that 4-2-3-1 wasn’t working against packed defences and we needed a change. We changed to 3-5-2 and immediately started on a run of improved form that lasted until the league stopped



    At the start of this season injuries and lack of personnel in the key positions meant we had couldn’t play 3-5-2 and we faced the same problems we did last time we played a 4 at the back.



    Last season taught us 4-2-3-1 is a better formation against better teams who come out and play. Against teams who pack the defense and look to hit on the break it’s far less effective than a 3-5-2.



    Im interested to know how see how going back to a 4 against Aberdeen and other Scottish teams is likely to get any better results than it has in the past. Unless we move to a more dynamic line-up, like a 4-3-3 or the fluid 4-3-2-1 that the Huns have perfected after 2 years of practice. 4-2-3-1 was rumbled by the end of last year

  28. Big Georges Fan Club - Hail, Hail, Wee Oscar on

    UNCLE JIMMY on 23RD OCTOBER 2020 12:08 PM


    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?





    Good observation and questions.






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