When looking back on last season I suggested we would not have won the league if we persisted with the 4-2-3-1 formation that brought us to the brink of crisis in December. Creativity was ponderous and the players looked out of ideas. We switched to three at the back after the winter break and rolled towards the title. The same players looked commanding and worthy winners.
There were many failures last night, but reverting to the tried-and-tested-and-failed formation is high on the list. If there is another reason we failed to score more with so much possession, I don’t think it had a material impact.
After the Hamilton Accies demolition, it felt churlish to gripe about the volume of chances we conceded, but I could foresee having to write today’s article. High on my mind that day was what some unknown, but infinitely better, European striker would do to us in qualifying. We are wide open to the counter attack. Ferencvaros’ winner was a dreadful goal to concede – a clearance from the middle of their own half that we failed to defend. Although Elhamed was culpable, it was a consequence of how we play.
You have seen the opening goal before this season. Accies threw a set piece into the box, which was headed to the edge of a penalty area that was a Celtic Free Zone. We have conceded three goals this season, two of them as a consequence of not getting out to the edge of the box for the second ball at set pieces.
Neil Lennon seemed more upset about the second goal – which involved a clear individual error – than the first, which was a systemic failure to defend set pieces. We do not push out with rehearsed purpose. Motherwell will know that and if we do not fix it by Sunday, they will exploit what Hamilton and Ferenvaros already profited from.
For years I have written here that suggestions players do not look interested is a naïve comment by people that do know little about football, which is usually borne out when they burst into creativity following a tactical change. Neil threw this theory (and his players) under the bus after the game. Whatever mistakes Neil Lennon made last night, we know the man well enough to be sure something significant lay behind his post-match comments about players not wanting to be at Celtic.
We have been here before, from Kelvin, to Moussa to Dedryck. Based on the manager’s comments, I have no doubt some of the current crop are up to the same tricks. This is very disappointing, but it is not why we were knocked out of Europe, again, by a team with that cost a fraction of our own, and on this occasion to a team who have played fewer games than us.
The value for money return on our wage and player investment spend has brought historical highs domestically. Money spent is the blunt weapon that’s delivered nine-in-a-row, three trebles and counting, but we are regularly out boxed by European financial minnows, and if you blame Hatem Elhamed for last night, you are missing the big picture.
On a tactical note, I am not getting into whoever wants a move until the window closes. There are very important weeks ahead. Eye on the (remaining) prize.