I have a semi-regular correspondent, Raymie, who, over some considerable time now, has expressed concerns when Celtic play two central midfielders with two attack-minded players in the wide berths.
Intuitively, we should be attack minded against all Scottish opposition, especially at home, but football parks are big open spaces which requires a lot of industry to cover effectively. Scott Brown is the epitome of industry while Stefan Johansen appears to be cut from the same mould, but with James Forrest hugging the right touchline and Georgios Samaras playing his usual role on the left, Aberdeen had men over in central midfield, which ultimately determined the outcome of the game.
Neil Lennon seems to know not to play Forrest and Samaras together, they have only both started in wide positions in one league game since September, which was an uninspiring 0-1 win in Inverness. Forrest replaced an injured Kris Commons 28 minutes into a game at Easter Road in October, but although James scored Celtic’s only goal, this was one of only three league games this season we’ve dropped points.
The manager, of course, was part of a robust midfield in his time at Celtic, with Paul Lambert to one side of him and tough-tackling-always-running Alan Thompson to the other, although neither Lennon nor Lambert had the mobility of Scott Brown. It wasn’t until Martin O’Neill left and Gordon Strachan took over, that we got to see the likes of Nakamura on one wing and Maloney on the other.
If you were lining up against Celtic and realised they had two in central midfield your game plan would immediately crystallise. Teams will mostly face Celtic with only one striker, allowing five in the middle, most or all of whom will play tight. This creates a numerical advantage in the most crucial area of the field, and a basis to build forward moves on the occasions, however rare, they are able to do so.
Compare Saturday’s performances with the two comfortable wins over Aberdeen this season. In august the 0-2 victory was achieved with a midfield of Brown, Kayal, Ledley and Mulgrew. None known for their creativity but Celtic cruised nonetheless.
November’s 3-1 win saw Brown, Ledley, Mulgrew and Samaras in midfield; Aberdeen didn’t get a sniff.
One final word on the players……………
Most of us watched the away defeat to Shahkter Karagandy with some annoyance at the ITV commentators’ regular accusations that the players were not applying themselves appropriately. Neil Lennon gave voice to our objections after he heard the commentary while reviewing the game. The game went against Celtic but it was absurd to suggest the players were not applying themselves fully.
Reading comments on CQN and listening to the manager after Saturday’s game I felt we were in similar territory, with Neil saying, “We gave the players all the preparations needed”, “I can hardly single out any player, maybe James [Forrest] and Stokesy, to come out with any credit”, “There was a lack of composure, particularly in midfield and at full-back”.
I just don’t buy the lack of application or focus accusations which have been flying around here in recent days. Players spend all week gearing up for game time, when it looks different on the park, there is usually a tactical reason.
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