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Defenceless

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Celtic’s defence has broken records in each of the last two seasons. Last term we conceded 17 goals in 38 league games, an imperious record. This season we’ve conceded nine goals in seven games, a run of form which was already well established before the departure of Virgil van Dijk. So much has gone wrong in such a short space of time it’s difficult to narrow the focus down to a root issue.

Virgil will be a miss, without doubt, but he’s been in attendance for all but the last game of this season, so whatever’s going wrong, we’re not seeing the consequences of his departure yet. We lost Virgil’s junior partner from last season, Jason Denayer, who was replaced by Dedryck Boyata. Dedryck’s contributed to some of the defensive issues: he was culpable for both Inverness goals, for example.

One issue which I couldn’t figure after the Malmo game at Celtic Park, and which re-emerged at Pittodrie, was Mikael Lustig being drawn to the middle of defence, leaving a gap behind him. Jo Inge Berget scored for Malmo after being left unattended, while Aberdeen were unable to punish us from similar situations on Saturday.

Lustig is the definition of reliability, I don’t believe he’s abandoned his duties on the right flank without reason. If Lustig sees his two central defenders in front of the striker when an opponent has the ball on Celtic’s left, he’ll abandon the threat from the right to cover the space the striker has behind Celtic’s two central defenders. This is why we lost the first goal at home to Malmo and could have cost us again on Saturday.

Then there’s the goalkeeper. We’ve debated how a high ball into the six yard box should be the keeper’s ball, defenders should not be running back towards their own goal and challenging in an area where the keeper should win the ball, or take a foul.

There was a bit of shock when we lost goals like this from set-pieces against Malmo, but Aberdeen’s second goal was inexplicable. When the free kick was taken, Craig Gordon was standing on the spot where Paul Quinn met the cross from a moment later. If he stood still, the ball would have hit him. Instead of claiming the ball, Craig backed off and was stranded on his line as Quinn side footed the ball into the net.

Defenders shouldn’t be in this area. The goalkeeper should come out, knowing his own men will not get in his way, and that he can claim the ball unless he’s fouled by an opponent.

If all is going wrong in front of him, a goalkeeper should still be claiming balls into his six yard box, so Craig Gordon is without doubt not prepared when corners and free kicks have been fired into him, but I suspect more than this is going wrong.

It’s impossible to tell from the outside what’s actually going on in a defence but two key aspects of any defensive unit are trust and communication. You need to know where team-mates and threats are, and you need to know that you can rely on team-mates to do what’s necessary. I have my doubts that either have existed in any measurable quantity this season.

Where does authority lie?

Last season Virgil was Celtic’s defensive authority. He had a new central defensive partner, a new goalkeeper, and he was one of our best players, so the lines of authority were clear. This season nothing has been clear. The whole world knew Virgil was leaving last month, while he had another new partner, who had made a career total of 32 appearances. Dedryck has a lot to learn about the game, he’s going to need mentored, and unlike last year, when Jason arrived, his senior partner was in his final weeks at the club.

The full back positions are another area of concern. Emilio was dropped for two European away games, as we publicly looked for and then signed a left back, while Mikael Lustig returned to the team after a lengthy injury, before picking up a minor injury.

With all that going on, problems should not be a surprise, although it’s disappointing that this far into the season we’re still not cohesive. Ronny has some big decisions to make for Amsterdam.

celticparkhaiti

While all else can go wrong, the work of the Celtic Foundation continues to amaze. The photos of Celtic Park Haiti, which opened this week, a product of the Foundation’s work in the country, is a phenomenal monument to the work of Celtic fans. Well done.

You have just one more day to bid on our hospitality auction for the Foundation, take a look here on ebay. You can win hospitality at the Walfrid and attendance in the Directors’ Box for three people for Sunday’s game against Dundee, courtesy of club sponsor, Intelligent Car Leasing.

It’s a genuinely special prize, thanks to Intelligent Car Leasing for their support. Good luck with your bids.

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388 Comments

  1. BOBBY MURDOCH'S CURLED-UP WINKLEPICKERS on

    BUTSYBHOY

     

     

    You’re doing yer effing damnedest to get disinvited,urntye?

     

     

    Have you hooked up wi the mad Bronze Angel man yet?

     

     

    Btw,CLOGHERCELT is on his way to 10/10. I reckon he may have a good time explaining the agenda for Easter2016.

  2. What is the Stars on

    The only decision I would allow Ronny to make now is his decision to resign.Provided he does that by the end of the month,which of course he wont.

     

     

    The man is not up to it,That was blatantly obvious from day one.

  3. The Battered Bunnet on

    Results from one week to the next are pretty random events in isolation, and in ordinary course, a loss at Pittodrie would not be seismic. However, I’m seeing very little evidence of a team approach at any level on the pitch, whether defending (which Paul has written about at length above), or attacking.

     

     

    That’s a major concern. Ronny’s well into season 2 now, and his group of players are yet to show much sign of cohesion or purpose, losing 2 significant matches along the way.

     

     

    What’s the PURPOSE, Ronny? The players don’t seem to know.

  4. Oh, and let me tell you that I love you

     

    That I think about you all the time

     

    Anhedonia you’re calling me

     

    And now I’m going home.

     

     

    If I should become a stranger

     

    You know that it would make me more than sad

     

    Anhedonia’s been everything

     

    I’ve ever had.

     

     

    inspired by sftb

  5. When did we last have a first choice central defensive partnership for successive seasons? If you chop and change every year then you’re just as liable to have a period as bad as they are just now, as one as good as they were like last season.

     

    SImunovic has a huge responsibility on his young shoulders, if he’s the success we hope he is then he’ll be gone wihin 2years.

     

    We do not build teams anymore, we buy to sell. There’s no continuity.

  6. We have quite a few problems right now.

     

     

    Teams know that if they press our defence then we will either misplace passes or go long. When we go long there is nobody capable of winning or holding onto the ball.

     

     

    I can only presume that is why Rogic was played on Saturday. It was always him showing for a long throw or challenging for long balls. He doesn’t have the strength or desire to win these balls tho.

     

     

    As such, we struggle to get out.

     

     

    Ronny definitely seems to me to have no real relationship with the players. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as they respect him. I’m not sure they do. If he is telling them to press and play a high tempo and it is not being carried out then he needs to act. If he is being undermined then he needs to act. If he doesn’t then quite correctly he should go.

     

     

    Our defence is well covered and the quality is probably not too bad (we were spoiled with JD and VVD) but as others have said, the experience isn’t there and it’s telling.

     

     

    Finally, I really don’t think the formation is the problem. It’s the most used formation in the CL. We just need to sign and play players who suit it.

     

     

    Trying to play a quick passing game with Brown, Johansen and Mulgrew around is doomed to failure. These guys are ok and can play a part but not all together. I like Broonie but he seems to always drop to collect the ball off centre back A, then play centre back B in. This leaves a CB (Boyata most often) bringing the ball out of defence. Ronny always made comment on forward passing when he came in and we now so rarely do that. It’s baffling.

  7. Hi Paul67,

     

     

    …. With all that going on, problems should not be a surprise, although it’s disappointing that this far into the season we’re still not cohesive. Ronny has some big decisions to make for Amsterdam.

     

     

    Good analysis of our defensive frailties. By trying to keep the core of last season’s team together for the UCL qualifiers this Seasons re-building is way behind schedule, it has meant we’ve fallen between two stools – not quite strong enough to get through the UCL qualifiers but not yet up to speed for the League and Europa Cup games. It’s true, Ronny has some big decisions (though his changing of mind seems rather concerning), but we are far from prepared to face Ajax – the only way we’ll get a result is by showing – the so far lacking – bottle.

     

     

    The other thing is, do we now have serious opposition? Hearts were beaten on Friday and are one point behind us, Aberdeen are two points ahead with a game in hand, which they play on Tuesday, these two Clubs face each other on Sunday. The weekend’s results must have Aberdeen as favourites, but we will know by this time next week, who, if any of these teams are title contenders.

     

     

    So it will be interesting next Sunday, during the build up to the game at Celtic Park, all eyes will be on Tynecastle. Is this the first time we’ve had to take a serious interest in the result of an SPFL game?

     

     

    Well done to all those involved in Celtic Park Haiti – Great job!

     

     

    Hail Hail

  8. GlassTwoThirdsFull on

    Good defences play as a unit.

     

    Lustig covering the middle when the attack comes down the other side is the right thing to do. The DMs also have to take responsibility for defending against the counter. Not sure if this is happening.

     

    Set pieces are a different but equally or even more worrying problem.

     

    The biggest problem of all is that other teams are noticing our weaknesses and we are not…..

  9. Jump on a train to the Laurieston you say BMCUW. …and who’ll bring my washing in if it rains…..eh.

     

     

    Ayrshire is Green and White

  10. BOBBY MURDOCH'S CURLED-UP WINKLEPICKERS on

    TONYDONNELLY

     

     

    It’s not my argument,mate. I only tried to prevent one.

  11. BOBBY MURDOCH'S CURLED-UP WINKLEPICKERS on

    MICKTT

     

     

    Leave it out,mate(!)

     

     

    It gets properly rinsed that way. And saves on the ironing.

     

     

    ViztoptipsCSC

  12. Should we have let Fisher leave when Lustig is so injury prone?

     

     

    I like Fisher. Clearly Ronny doesn’t.

  13. Play Lustig in central defence in Amsterdam. Let him organize those around him from the middle of the park rather than the wing. Team him up with either Simunovic or Boyata and play Janko at rightback.

  14. Joe Filippis Haircut on

    I dont think if the truth be told many of us fancy our chances away from home against Ajax but the strange thing how often in the past has that been the case and Celtic have gone out and shocked us in a good way.I think the Dutch side may well be a little over confident and we may well do better than we all think we will.H.H.

  15. CLINK\O/

     

     

    He had a very poor debut & while Paul is spot on in his analysis of their second goal. If you watch it again, Blackett was running aimlessly into our six yard box leaving his man the goalscorer completely unmarked.

     

     

    Was really looking forward to seeing him play at LB as we are desperate for a more defensive option for Europe. However he showed nothing to his game, no pace, no strength, poor passing, poor positioning, no attacking prowess hell he couldn’t even take a throw in. Hopefully it was another Henrik, in him having a debut to forget. Time will tell I suppose!

     

     

    HH!

  16. Paul67

     

     

    Sorry, your Mikael Lustig observation could be made for every single Celtic full back, left or right that’s ever played. It’s ‘ball watching’ and every player does it from time to time, in the heat of a game. Zonal marking makes it show up, because the player is not in his zone, a case for regular ‘man marking?’ or just plain old ‘picking up the man nearest’.

     

     

    A reminding word in his ear by the coaches could fix it.

     

     

    I think a lot went wrong before Craig Gordon decided to stay on his line, including the ball being allowed to go over every single Celtic defenders head, how the coach stops that happening is a lot harder, unless you have the right players?

     

     

    The fact Quinn could let it drop to his foot and didn’t need to jump, just makes it a poorer goal to lose.

     

     

    HH

  17. paul 67

     

    some great points made

     

    the biggest elephant in the room is deila

     

    he is clueless maybe he will come good

     

    i hope we get a result in amsterdam to prove me wrong

     

    i dont think we will

     

    ps brown has been a passenger along with johansen

     

    both need dropped if performances dont improve soon

  18. CultsBhoy likes living wage hates heated driveways on

    I agree re Lustig when fit he is a class apart from all but two other Celtic players ( guess who?)..I 100% share the analysis that he is being drawn in to cover central defenders…if Izzy is not reinstated soon – Lustig will be covering the whole defence…and that is taking account of Izzy’s defensive frailties.

     

     

    So far in to the season? so many years down the road more like. I rated Denayer very highly but I think we all knew he was a loan gig that was never going to translate in to a permanent contract. I think we all knew last year VVD was on his way at the first opportunity. We’ve known about defensive issues for a few seasons… almost as long as we’ve known about our striking crisis…but we only ever seem to buy midfielders in bulk.

     

     

    I’m not blaming Ronny as I feel this even pre dates his arrival.

     

     

    Its just a lack of coherent planning in relation to football matters. All energy goes in to short term financial management. Footballers brought to our club are short term ounts – some have paid off spectacularly some haven’t. However even if all of them had left for £10m – it would not have brought consistency to the team.

     

     

    Only the fans care about the team and even that is now diminishing…

     

     

    CQN if it a barometer of anything it has always given a voice to the well mannered, rational thinking Celtic supporter..even this is descending in to madness more often than not. A sign that folk are at the end of their tether.

     

     

    I’d love a new CEO in the January window – Peter could take extended garden leave and lie on his heated driveway over the winter months contemplating a new future…that way we’d all be happy.

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

    Don’t usually get into Celtic players, and hate the targeting of individuals – but I think Wee BGFC called it right after about 3 games – “Dad, that Boyata’s rubbish!!!” :-))

     

     

    Hope the big fella settles in soon – defend solidly first and foremost, and concentrate for the full game – because he has not been impressive so far. Young guy, left exposed without a steady old head to help him through, is the underlying problem (and that is the same in other areas of the team too).

     

     

    HH

     

    BGFC

  20. Joe Filippis Haircut on

    We all know that when a goalkeeper makes an error of judgement it usually results in a goal against his team.Now as good as he is Craig has lost a few poor goals now he has a new defence in front of him and it appears it will take time to bed in so Craig needs to be even more positive and on Saturday he was far from positive. H.H.

  21. BOBBY MURDOCH’S CURLED-UP WINKLEPICKERS on 14th September 2015 12:35 pm

     

     

    Not yet ? spoke to him the other day still to go up and see him.

     

     

    HH

  22. There is a deeper malaise, in my opinion, than just the defensive kind, outlined by Paul.

     

     

    I’m sure that I speak for a large chunk of the support, when I say there was no real surprise that we were beaten in Aberdeen.

     

     

    Ronny’s word is now being doubted by most of us – he has lost a certain amount of credibility – no doubt.

     

     

    What we must ask, is there now ‘drift’ and/or unrest in the dressing-room?

     

     

    I do not want a ‘witch-hunt’ against Ronny and JC – but our lack of focus in important games is now worrying.

     

     

    The Ajax match is now looked upon with trepidation – let’s hope we don’t take a hammering. On the other hand, a good performance could maybe ‘kick-start’ our season.

     

     

    Really, at the moment, I don’t know what to think – everything seems to be in ‘limbo’

     

     

    The account figures were the clearest indication to date of the fragile environment in which we operate – CL elimination deflates not only our fervour almost before the season has begun, it reminds us that without access to the group stages and the bonus of player-sales, we are walking a financial tightrope.

     

     

    Downsizing is not, in my opinion, a deliberate strategy, rather it is and inevitable consequence of falling revenue and the cost of even the most ordinary players.

     

     

    “Living within our means”, means just that – we can only budget to spend what we can raise in revenue – is there really a swell of opinion that advocates taking on substantial debt?

     

     

    If Maribor and Malmo can reach the CL groups with a much smaller budget than ours – surely it is self-evident, that the problem lies squarely in the football department, and no where else?

  23. The Battered Bunnet on

    With Griffiths’ case having been concluded, he’s got an outstanding case with the SFA on the matter. He will (and ought to) have the book thrown at him.

     

     

    With another wee case pending re his comments after Saturday’s match, I expect Nadir Ciftci will get an extended run of league games, allowing him to show us what he’s got. Let’s hope it’s worth the wait, but I’m not inclined to hold my breath.

  24. the glorious balance sheet on

    Interesting blog on our defensive issues. How did it come to this?

     

     

    Well we have signed 18 players in the last 3 transfer windows. Only 4 of these players started v Malmo and one of these guys (janko) only got the nod because Lustig was injured.

     

     

    The next cycle of European qualifiers should always be the focus of our transfer activity in the summer and january windows given that Europe and especially the CL is where we make the money and gain the profile necessary to attract better players and grow the club.

     

     

    And yet our signing policy doesn’t seem to be focused on securing European qualification, not when so few of our signings are established in the team for these qualifiers.

     

     

    How many of the following from that list of 18 do you think will be in the first team come next year’s qualifiers-

     

     

    Gordon, Berget, Tonev, Denayer, Wakaso, Guidetti, scepovic, Duffy, Mackay-Steven, Armstrong, boyata, janko, Bailly, ciftci, Allan, Blackett, simunovic, christie.

     

     

    Right now I would only have any certainty in Gordon and Armstrong definitely being established in the team next August, janko has a chance dependent upon lustig’s injury situation, jozo I haven’t seen as yet.

     

     

    Clearly there are a couple of long term punts (christie and Duffy) and a back-up (Bailly) in that list but that leaves 15 players signed, the vast majority of whom are stop-gaps who don’t feature in the qualifiers or who are simply not good enough to beat the malmos of this world.

     

     

    It amounts to a fortune squandered in wages, signing on, agents and loan fees. Money that we can ill afford to lose as we become entrenched as a team whose glass ceiling is Europa league group stage qualification.

  25. By the way, I think Logan Bailly is pretty good.

     

     

    Craig needs to perform or he will end up like David Marshall