Wrong system caused Celtic to crumble


Five at the back is an orthodox defensive shape, it’s not a headcount of defenders, which is the crux of where we went wrong last night: we chose the wrong system.

Consider the space between (debutant) Gamboa and Lustig at the first goal. No one was sure who should have been picking up Messi (reveal: it was Bitton, who didn’t track the run). There was uncertainty – presumably because we tried a new defensive system out at the Camp Nou.

Another consequence of five at the back is that your fullbacks don’t get midfield cover. Instead, Sinclair and Roberts were asked to work 40 yards out. This plan came at the cost of protecting Gamboa and Tierney.

The overwhelming tactical memory I have of our win against Barca four years ago was Neil Lennon doubling up in the fullback area.

Then we had two central defenders with Wanyama (a defensive mid, which Bitton is not) in front. Our two full backs were partnered with a wide midfield player. Diagrammatically that was four at the back, but whenever Barcelona were in possession (80% of the time), seven players were protecting the Celtic penalty area.

The abiding defensive memory from that night it the thicket of legs confronting Messi every time he got the ball. There was no space for him to pass and move into. Last night, he had more space inside the box to run into that he’ll see all season. It was simply the wrong system.

During the game I was pretty annoyed at Bitton, who I blamed for the first three goals, but he’s a deep-lying playmaker, not a defensive mid, and looked clueless in the position. Although even I know you need to track Messi’s forward runs, and my 11-yr-old knew they were about to score the third the minute we conceded a free kick 23 yards out in front of goal. Reveal: barging players 23 yards out is a mistake that gets you spoken to when playing 2004s football.

We had numbers but not a coherent defensive strategy. The lessons from The Beating of Barca in 2012 were lost. Four years ago we twice played them with these back fours:

Lustig, Wilson, Ambrose, Izaguirre
Lustig, Wilson, Ambrose, Matthews (out of position)

None of Wilson, Ambrose, Izaguirre or Matthews (at left back) would get in this Celtic team. They were all pretty standard-grade defenders, but with protection on the wings and in front, it worked.

After we lost the third concentration levels dipped, tired legs after Saturday would have been energised legs if we were still in touch. I’d also tell Scott Brown not to worry too much about giving the ball away. We’re not good enough to plan to regularly retain possession at the Camp Nou.

We’re a ‘two pass then lob it into the box or win a foul’ team at this level. Accept this and concentrate on what’s deliverable – “We are Celtic, try running through this thicket of legs”.

Scotts Brown and Sinclair played well. Moussa will beat himself up about the penalty but it was inconsequential. Gamboa and de Vries looked lost, as all Camp Nou opposition debutants (there can’t be many) and exposed keepers do.

It may have been the biggest loss in Europe but it doesn’t even come close to being our worst performance. It’s not even our worst performance in Europe of the season, so we’ll get over it quickly.

You and I both remember seven goal victories being overturned a week later.  This is football.  The leap required to deliver a tighter defensive system is not the magnitude it may appear.



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  1. 13 competative matches this season. Only two clean sheets at home to Red Imps and Motherwell. You can’t blame the defence entirely, we don’t defend well as a team. Brendan employs an expansive style which I don’t see changing a great deal.

  2. Wrong system and woeful defending caused us to crumble.



    And a guy i was pressing for inclusion in the team last saturday, but who was beyond abysmal last night. Nir Bitton. Never a defensive midfielder in a million years. He’s good with the play in front of him, but on the back foot, he was worse than a man down last night.



    As for the penalty. Actually, no, lets not go there. My BP is just beginning to approach normal levels (well normal for me anyway).



    However. Time to forget and move on. I had no expectations for last night before KO (although had hoped we could keep it to 4 or less) so learn a lesson or three – BR must be included in that as his team formation did indeed cause us trouble last night – move on and look to the next League games and then City at The Park.






  3. thomthethim for Oscar OK on

    When we had the ball, Barca were like dervishes, all over us before we could even look up.




    They anticipated our passes and were on to our players in a flash.



    As a result, we couldn’t short pass our way out of defence, which was our intention.




    This left us with the aimless punt up the park, which inevitably led to a boomerang return.




    The development game in the afternoon began in a similar pattern, with the young Barca boys looking much sharper in thought and action.




    Fortunately, the Celtic boys dug in and could have salvaged a point.




    What helped our lads in that game was the fact that they are a cohesive unit, who , most of them, have been playing together for a few years, A luxury the first team don’t have.




    How long have Piqué, Busquets, Jordi Alba, Iniesta, Messi. Neymar and even Suarez, been together.




    Even if they just met on the bus, they would still have beaten us.




    Apart from their individual skills, Barca have a telepathic understanding of each other.

  4. If in a couple of weeks we take 7 from Alloa,will that be shameful for them?.Will they have used the wrong tactics?.




    We are in a different league from them.We have far superior players.It would not be any great surprise,and forgot about in a couple of days.


    Far too many forgetting where we are.Our name means nothing,nor does our history.We can strive over the next couple of seasons to get up the ladder a bit,but in this day,that is all we can hope for.


    It would also be nice to get a draw where we have at least,a fighting chance.


    Luck comes into it as well.

  5. GlassTwoThirdsFull on

    Some good points there, Paul.


    No defensive midfielder means we had to have two players in that area, leaving us with less options (eg doubling up wide).


    Seven transfer windows and three managers since Victor Wanyama left and still no DM. Why??????

  6. RON67 on 14TH SEPTEMBER 2016 12:27 PM


    barca played the way barca play, we didn’t play the Celtic way.



    And just what is that?.

  7. I’m quite surprised that some of think that a team that couldn’t prevent Be’ersheeva from scoring would somehow be miraculously transformed into a team that could keep Barca at bay.



    The frailties were apparent in Israel and one transfer window or three months of Brendan’s system won’t change that dramatically.



    Improvement game by game that’s our aim.



    Barca is history now, Brendan and the team will learn from it, 3 points in the Highlands our next goal..

  8. Awe_Naw_No_Annoni_Oan_Anaw_Noo on

    Great read CQN at its best today. Thanks for the contributions bhoys.



    I think the system was wrong but what was the alternative ?



    5 along the back. Cos a back three of lusting, shevchekno and toure are too slow for a backline played further up



    I was amazed we did not;



    Change setup


    Debuted a full back


    Never fouled


    Played Roberts



    Only Skoosh toure and Sinclair played with any belief



    30m to bank and Brendan got a WBA reserve and a Swansea reserve and both played.



    I don’t expect European football after Christmas and I expect this January transfer window to be the most telling statement from our plc one way or another



    I am a bit dissapointed about the lack of debate with regards improving our domestic league. We seem to be ineffective at all levels.



    A totally historic humiliation cannot be easily dismissed.






    Some good points there, Paul.



    No defensive midfielder means we had to have two players in that area, leaving us with less options (eg doubling up wide).



    Seven transfer windows and three managers since Victor Wanyama left and still no DM. Why??????



    Doing a Warbo here.No disrespect,but just what is this term “Defensive Mid”?.Can you name me any?.I know you will say Wanyama,but watching him play,he is anything but stuck at the back,he is all over the park.


    I fear this is some mythical creature that sounds wonderful,but just does not exist.

  10. Pretty sound tactical analysis Paul67. I posted first thing that even with the worlds best back 4 and holding midfield 2 the shape we played would not have stopped them last night.



    I am remarkably ok with the whole thing.



    My Liverpool following buddies doubt Brendan’s ability to learn from defensive lapses though. I hope they are wrong. In Europe anyway.

  11. TURKEYBHOY on 14TH SEPTEMBER 2016 12:34 PM



    we cannot defend to save ourselves, so why change the system.

  12. EI needs to get in the team.


    Young KT is totally shot now.



    The emotion / adrenalin has worn off and he is just trying to see out 90 minutes.


    His form has been poor and he needs a rest.



    We cannot expect him to last a full season playing every game.


    He needs coaching and some tome out to rebuild his confidence.

  13. Turkeybhoy



    When Wanyama played for us, few teams ran through our midfield and Barcelona struggled to.



    Makalele did a similar job in his career.



    Neil Lennon and Paul Lambert did in the Seville team.



    A guy who sits in the midfield, breaks up attacks and passes the ball to the more forward going players is arguably the most valuable to any team because he allows the skill players to get the ball.



    These guys do exist. It is finding them that is the problem.



    It’s not to say these guys cannot go forward, score goals and attack, they can but you need people to do the dirty work for the team.



    Celtic lack such a player as things stand.



    Brendan has time to get these kinds of guys in a later window.



    Right now we just get on with it.





    We got rid of the only viable one on our books.






    Dunno why he keeps getting played at right-back. He knows his correct position,and his coaches from his Reading days know his correct position.



    When a player is continually used wrongly,it wrecks his confidence and self-belief because his talent is undermined.



    Ultimately it wrecks his career. A bloody shame.

  15. Hello again all you young rebels.



    Now that the dust has settled and had a look back at the game


    it’s not a disgrace to get a mauling by a team like Barca, they’re the


    best on the planet but that’s what $ 500 million dollars debt gets


    you and until somebody comes up with some kind of financial


    fair play for all clubs then it’s where we live, and your correct P67


    I’m sure if Brendan could play it again he would change his approach


    But hey, i,m over it already because i’ll be down the rebel peninsula


    again with my fellow Celts for another Celtic weekend, we will talk


    about the Barca game but we will rave about when we were the best


    team in the world without the debt, and there will be some EPL duds


    who will try and give us some stick but they will get my usual reply


    ” why don’t you go to your own supporters clubs?


    Oh thats right, you’ve not got any here in Oz have you?


    Do you know how many we have?


    And come to think of it neither has Barca.


    And thats why we are the famous Glasgow Celtic.


    H.H Mick

  16. Awe_Naw_No_Annoni_Oan_Anaw_Noo on




    I think BR had the game written off. No fouls … hardly any. No change of formation. Signals been sent. No chance of a EL spot … money banked anyway




  17. GivehimthemoneyPeterCSC on

    Thats the first game I”ve been disappointed in Brendan…too many defenders and not enough midfielders who can tackle…



    A change of system and fresh legs would have helped.



    As a previous poster said amazing how little we fouled last night….



    De Vries had no chance at most of the goals although could have done better at the free kick…



    Dembele and Broonie did ok….first time Tierney looked tired



    This team badly needs a wanyama or a thommo….

  18. DDV getting a bit of stick, I wasn’t impressed either, then I thought we could have had both keepers on last night, an kept the score down to respectable 6.

  19. Bitton, a deep lying playmaker?? Haha at least you’ve not lost your sense of humour.



    A deep lying playmaker passes the ball to team mates, occasionally plays the ball forward and creates openings and opportunities. Bitton passes the ball back from where it came putting the centre halves under pressure. When he ventures a forward pass it more often than not leads to us losing possession.


    A deep lying playmaker is what the manager apparently wanted in transfer window. Bitton is filling a gap, badly, until January when he gets who he wants.





    Radio 2 over here were dishing it out a bit on the breakfast show. Not for the first time wi the choob.



    Not much given to responding,but I texted the show.



    32 teams in the CL. Chelsea aren’t in it. Man U neither. Liverpool,naw. Everton,kidding. Etc.



    Celtic are.



    Those teams might not have got a doing like us last night,but I bet they all wish they had a chance to get one.

  21. Davidopoulos on 14th September 2016 12:35 pm


    Is Kristoffer Ajer the defensive midfielder we need?



    Ajer and Henderson should at least be given a chance.

  22. Seems like Nir Bitton is the escaped goat in big Efe’s absence. For the first goal, Scott Brown was the first player to move away from Messi, and not track the run; but Gamboa and Lustig can bothe be seen as culpable as well. Add in Bitton and we have 4 players who could possibly have stopped it. Caught cold; our perennial Europen problem.



    The other reality is that we don’t really know what the actual game plan was, because the baw was burst after 2 minutes and 46 seconds. We never recovered from that.



    For those waxing lyrical about Lennon’s managerial tenure in Europe: remember Utrecht? Now that was embarrassing.



    As I said in Some Badly Needed Perspective a different system might have lessened the score, it wouldn’t have prevented the defeat; or provided some much needed lessons!



    As long as we learn from it!



    FAC the Act!




  23. GlassTwoThirdsFull on



    See Snake Plissken’s answer :-)


    Add in guys like Kante and Mascherano (for Argentina).


    They also give you protection when the full-backs go forward (how often did we get caught out that way last season?).

  24. 100% agree, except for your comment about biton – when you have 5 defenders across the back there should be enough spare men for one to be alert to a run from one of their three attackers



    Last night wasn’t about what we did when we had the ball or being brave in possession, far better footballers are unable to deal with the panic that getting hunted down by two or three barca players brings. It was about using what talents we do have to stop them from giving us a doing and holding on for a one in a hundred chance of nicking a goal to get a result of some sort



    I hope Brendan doesn’t put us through another night like last night, I’m not confident – if we played them again next week I’m not sure there wouldn’t be a similar outcome

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