What’s not in dispute about Sunday was Celtic’s overwhelming superiority in every aspect of the game. One Newco fan suggested to me that on that showing, only Nir Bitton wouldn’t have got into the Newco (not his word) team. What worked so well for us, despite an array of unenforced errors and poor finishing, was the passing and positional play from our two central defenders.
The jury has been out on Jozo Simunovic since his arrival in the summer of 2015 as we’ve seen so little of him in that time, but he and Erik Sviatchenko were fundamental to our dominance. With both full backs playing high up-field, Jozo and Erik were asked to cover the back line, often taking possession under pressure, but there were no Big Bobo moments.
They were comfortable enough to hold possession while being closed down and play a short passing game. Erik was regularly in the left back position against the touchline, but stuck to task. This meant Celtic could continue to play through periods where passing higher up the park wasn’t as accurate as it could have been.
As a consequence, Mikael Lustig and Kieran Tierney were able to overload wide midfield positions. Whenever possession was lost we were in place to press quickly.
Jozo got a good block on the only genuine chance Newco created all game (caused through an unenforced error in midfield) but apart from that it was difficult to judge any of the defenders on their defensive display, as we weren’t asked to defend for large parts of the day.
Brendan made the decision to let Jozo go to Torino in August, for the deal to fall through. One of his objectives this season will be to go into next summer’s Champions League qualifiers with three central defenders he can rely on (there is less doubt we’ll be in the qualifiers now than at this stage during the last three seasons).
Caveat on Wednesday aside, Kolo Toure has proven to be a great signing (he’s four years older than Philippe Senderos, as a guide), but it will be a while before he or Brendan will discuss next season. If Jozo and Erik remain fit, and with Eoghan O’Connell looking the part, this area of the team is well sorted.