Midfield isolation


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.

If you would like to read the new CQN Magazine, GO HERE to read properly, and for FREE, the graphic below is just a taster.
[calameo code=0003901710a55b5798f06 lang=en page=1 hidelinks=1 width=100% height=500]

Click Here for Comments >

About Author

  1. Pages:
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. 4
  6. 5
  7. 6
  8. 7
  9. ...
  10. 18

  1. TBJ Praying for Oscar Knox on

    We played our best attacking football and ran over teams when sammi and forrest were missing

  2. ‘I have a semi’…



    What a way to start an article. Flustered me so much I missed the podium…

  3. “November’s 3-1 win saw Brown, Ledley, Mulgrew and Samaras in midfield; Aberdeen didn’t get a sniff.”




    As Jim Royle would say My Arse!



    We were flattered by the scoreline and the result with two late goals from Commons & Bo Richter coming in injury time.



    I left with a few minutes of normal time left and the bar/post still reverbrating to a shot from Aberdeen IIRC.



    FF made a few saves too and Derek McInnes rightly said after the game that his team deserved something out of it.

  4. A few points about the game last weekend.



    1. Why do some many Celtic fans treat this like the sky has fallen down?


    If we want a competitive league we have to acknowledge the fact that this means


    we will lose games and get knocked out of competitions.


    That is what a competitive environment does. Some you win, some you lose.



    2. Bonus item of being knocked out:


    We avoid coming face to face with Sevconians for a little bit longer (possibly forever).


    I know I am not the only one who dreads the day that Celtic and Sevco meet up.


    It is guaranteed to be bad news for Celtic.


    Sevco have nothing much to lose. Celtic have everything to lose.


    I would have preferred them to get knocked out and us continue but hey, you can’t get everything you want.



    3. NFL needs to have plan A, plan B, plan C and plan D ready to go for every game.


    It is a no-brainer that every opposing coach can see what everyone else sees.


    Our dependance on KC is obvious to anyone.


    Having come up with an opposition plan to nullify KC, NFL should have a plan B ready.


    Plan B does not necessarily require player changes, but certainly requires radically different tactics.


    Having a preferred formation is all well and good but it makes you predictable.


    You need to adapt. Make changes to counter their counter measures.


    Continuing with plan A which has been nullified is rarely successful.


    Ideally, be unpredictable in all aspects of the game.


    If you have individuals such as a Maradona or a Messi you can overcome predictability shortfalls.


    We don’t have such players. Thus the team must adapt and change.


    NFL needs to expect that opposition teams will come prepared.


    Plan B, plan C, plan D etc……



    4. Give players who are obviously tired and jaded a rest.


    It doesn’t matter what they cost or what their reputation is,


    if they are below par give them a break to recharge.



    5. Give others a go.


    Players who spend almost every game warming the bench will become jaded.


    How can they be fully match fit, mentally match fit, if they never play?


    Give them a decent amount of game time.


    Don’t bring them on with 2 minutes to go.


    Aim to give them 30 minutes at least.

  5. P67 – “November’s 3-1 win saw Brown, Ledley, Mulgrew and Samaras in midfield; Aberdeen didn’t get a sniff”.



    Are you havin’ a laff? They hit the post with a couple minutes to go when it was 1-1. At that point in the game they were as likely to win the match as we were. In the end, we caught them with two added-time sucker punches. The big difference is their manager obviously learnt something from that match, our’s didn’t.

  6. Paul67



    A narrow midfield has worked many times, in the cruise to the title.



    Neil Lennon was entitled to think it would work again on Saturday but Samaras didn’t show and Forrest found one man in 93 minutes.



    If we had brought on Biton who Neil didn’t fancy, and lost the tie, the Internet would have panned the manage for doing what everybody wanted him to do.



    NFL picks the team CSC

  7. You can play two in the centre of the park if your two wingers put it in a shift, however neither Samaras or Forrest did. The selection of Samaras in the first place was mystifying to me, he had been out of favour recently and has looked out of sorts for most of the season so it was strange he came back into the first XI. While Forrest was one the few to show flashes of creativity he does the absolute minimum when he doesn’t have the ball. From my pitch side seat on Saturday I watched him closely and he did little tracking back and closing down of the opposition & passes the buck all too easily. This is coupled with his unfuriating habit of giving up and looking for fouls when he does get the ball.

  8. blantyretim is praying for the Knox family on

    If you don’t learn from your mistakes you will never be successful. .


    Old bill Livingstone told us that at eastercraigs. ..


    Still true..

  9. ohits



    12:40 on 11 February, 2014





    Ya auld bassa ye , I could nae sleep on Saturday night for worrying that i might be on the list ha ha .








    Boom! Another wan, hahahahaha

  10. blantyretim is praying for the Knox family on

    Free wi fi in breahead whilst mini in spending my hard earned cash..


    Every cloud csc

  11. Paul67 is repeating what so many others have said, that we played with only 2 in central midfield.


    We played with 3 in central midfield! And we struggled because Kris Commons was so ineffective.


    There is nothing wrong with the system we played if the more advanced central midfielder – KC in this case – puts in a good shift. Pukki did it against Trabzonspor, when we had Forrest and Boerrigter on the flanks.

  12. Paul, my old man said the same thing during the game. If we had Mulgrew in there instead of Samaras or Forrest we would probably have won comfortably.



    Unfortunately we have not found the right balance for scoring goals this year and this is probably why Lennon felt he needed to play his tried and trusted Stokes, Commons, Forrest & Samaras. Why have we struggled to score? Strikers.



    All the strikers Neil Lennon has signed before this season:



    Hooper, Murphy, Stokes, Lassad, Miku, Brozek, Olivier Kapo, Tony Watt, Bangura



    It’s hard to argue he has had a high success rate. Hooper is an undoubted success for sure. As for Watt I would say that so far, he is a success relative to the fee paid. Does he still have a career at Celtic? We will have to see.



    I personally have never been a fan of Stokes but I could see how a player who got around 20 goals in his first two seasons is a success to some (though for me, thats around the minimum a striker like Stokes should get)



    But for those three success stories we have plenty of failures.



    This season we have signed 4 strikers. It’s two early to judge Griffiths and Frindjonsson at all. As for Pukki and Balde, they may come good but its fair to say I would have expected more.



    Lets not get started on “creative” players

  13. Everyone blames Sami, despite his sublime pass for our goal, or Adam or James or the team selection. The glaring weakness against A’deen was Kris Commons, our main goal scorer this season and often our most creative player. On Saturday he was terrible.

  14. blantyretim is praying for the Knox family on



    Plenty if buds and cider in ganghut..


    Hollister is a dear shop btw..


    Thank god im not a skinny git anymore. O)



    As ole kevin bridges remarked about A&F its all skinny dudes…

  15. GlassTwoThirdsFull on

    Bad enough starting with the wrong set-up, but failing to change things when it clearly wasn’t going right is more worrying.



    Neil is still very much a manager in learning mode, but repeating mistakes is starting to be a concern. Also concerning is that none of his team seemes to notice either.



    With the CL qualifiers not too far away, I hope we are addressing shortages in midfield as well as up front.

  16. Paul 67,



    I agree 100 percent with your friend, play Samarras, Forrest and Commons in the same team when the game is already won, not one second before. When I saw the line up on Saturday my expectation levels hit the floor and never recovered.



    Our season continuing in an upbeat happy and confident mood depended on getting past Aberdeen in the cup. Dont think the players on Saturday saw it like that. Not saying they didn’t try even though the line up was seriously flawed, but for sure they didn’t try hard enough.

  17. blantyretim is praying for the Knox family on



    He is allowed an off day surely.


    When he wasn’t playing welk the others should have stood up to be counted.


    Are we now a one man team

  18. No excuses for playing Sammi and Forrest.We have all watched it fail badly before,obviously Lenny has not.The 3-1 game was a warning.The Dons were coming looking for at least a draw.They would fight us all the way,and so it proved.We handled this by conceding the midfield,blocking any progress our full backs could make by playing two wide men,and watching Efe have one of his jittery days.


    The mortal sin was not altering this when we all could see the outcome.Was it stupidity?.Could be,Lenny has done it before and watched it flop.Has he got a thing as most fans think with his favorites?.The ridiculous inclusion of a half fit Mathews,could be.


    We have watched a couple of master classes of tactics from Mourinho,strangely enough he was slaughtered by some on here for outsmarting his opponent and actually winning a must win game.This is the mark of a great manager.To keep making the same mistakes,is stupidity.

  19. BT



    Be home soon , coming up for the game on 1st March , any plans for a swally keep me posted would be nice to share a libation with a few of the bhoys .




  20. 79caps


    13:07 on


    11 February, 2014


    Everyone blames Sami, despite his sublime pass for our goal, or Adam or James or the team selection. The glaring weakness against A’deen was Kris Commons, our main goal scorer this season and often our most creative player. On Saturday he was terrible.




    Yep and a determination not to go the extra mile and sign a quality striker meant that when Kris went off the boil there was nobody to step up to the plate.

  21. HenriksChip



    Einstein didn’t ever actually say that. It’s probably the most misused quotation ever.

  22. Been saying since game 3 of the CL campaign, Samaras’ has past his sell-by-date and Stokes isn’t nearly good enough to play in CL games. Yet time and time again they get picked to play ahead of the new signings who need game time to show what they can do and whether they are worth keeping. I assume other than paper talk, there were no serious enquiries for Sammi which confirms my suspicion that he had nowhere to go last month. He has had one, maybe two, good seasons in the last four when he was a bit more than an enigma. He delivered big time in 2012-2013 but has done little since to merit a regular starting place.


    We are going to lose him for nothing in the summer so why play him? Not like it will impact his transfer fee or anything. Get Balde and Leigh G. playing and let’s see what they are made of. Stokes is no better than a potential impact sub and JF is a luxury that we can ill-afford in CL games when we need to close down the midfield area and keep possession for more than 1-2 passes.

  23. thomthethim for Oscar OK on

    mea culpa,



    Totally agree.



    The remainder of this season should be used to see if Neil has any faith in a Plan B.



    His A game has been sussed in Europe and for that reason, Sammi, of whom I was always a fan, is now superfluous.



    It has also been exposed at the domestic level.



    One problem in the call for promoting the next generation of players, is, that those who would be considered likely candidates, are out on loan.



    However, the manager has to devise a method to utilise the talents of Pukki, Balde, Griffiths and Biton.



    If he can’t evolve his tactics and I’m not sure he can, then, big decisions will have to be made.



    My doubts are based on the belief that Neil is a disciple of MON and GS, both exponents of cautious, pragmatic football, that has run it ‘s course in the developing game.



    If he moves on, there is guaranteed to be tears and recriminations.

  24. blantyretim


    I agree. I am only pointing out that KC was poor because I think that was why we lost, not because the team formation was wrong, as almost everyone is saying.

  1. Pages:
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. 4
  6. 5
  7. 6
  8. 7
  9. ...
  10. 18