On the long walk along London Road after the game on Saturday I overhead, “Any manager playing one up front clearly doesn’t have confidence in his team”. I hear variations on this quite often. It’s not true. In fact, I watched the hot favourites for the England and Wales (see what I did there) Premier League beat their main rivals with this formation last night.
Playing one up front can be as much of an attacking formation as playing two, or even three strikers. Any formation, 4 -2-3-1, 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 is not in itself overtly attacking or defensive. Even the often ridiculed 4-6-0 can be expansive.
There are a few ways to score goals. Martin O’Neill’s Celtic mastered the set-piece. For a period, a considerable percentage of our goals came either this way, or from cross balls. There’s also the classic long ball to a ‘big one up front’ who can knock it down to a penalty box poacher. Both these plays exploit the advantages of direct play, which in itself can break packed defences.
The modern game increasingly relies on alternatives, specifically creating space and movement. Don’t crowd the box, drag defenders out to allow pacey support players to break beyond them. At the very elite level, one of the game’s greatest ever goal-scorers, Christiano Ronaldo, exploits this space magnificently from the wings. Our own top striker, Leigh Griffiths, played a similar role before being handed the No. 9 role at Celtic. I suspect his best position isn’t, in fact, as a No. 9.
We need many things at Celtic, most specifically a defensive mid (another formation story), but we don’t need to revert to a 4-4-2. We need players who understand the importance of space in the final third, and who can exploit it.
Ronny has recruited a flood of wide players since arriving 18 months ago with very little success. Which has had an acute cost.