On the flip side his tendency to switch formations shows that he is yet to concentrate on any particular footballing philosophy and can disrupt the flow of the team as players’ positions are regularly changed.
Which brings me back to the 4-4-2 v 4-2-3-1 debate. In recent weeks Lennon has been forced to switch his formation because he has started with a 4-4-2.
The trend began as far back as the Motherwell game and has persisted up to last weekend. Against Motherwell there were extenuating circumstances with the game coming only three days after the Utrecht debacle. Yet, after starting with a 4-4-2 for the first time in the SPL this season it was only once Samaras was withdrawn (and no it wasn’t just that) and Maloney came inside to play behind Murphy that the pace was upped and chances started to flow. Maloney immediately went close with a few efforts across goal and eventually won the game winning penalty.
Similarly, against Hearts after a shaky first 20 minutes it was only once Stokes went to play wide right of a front three with Murphy down the middle and Forrest on the left that Maloney, now playing in the hole, began to influence the game. By doing so he sent Murphy away to set up the opener and then scored the second of two perfectly onside goals (just in case you’re reading Mr. Jeffries).
The same thing happened against Hibs when our best spell of the game came when Juarez played in the middle, with Stokes going wide, for the last twenty minutes of the first half. After the break Hibs gained momentum in the middle of the park due to the double whammy of Ledley moving to left-back and Juarez strangely being moved back to the right of midfield. Ironically, Juarez nearly killed the game off late in the second half when he hit the bar by coming from a central position.
Lennon’s poorest team selection came against Hamilton last weekend. Defensive errors apart the problem was a complete lack of balance throughout the side. By playing Samaras as an ‘inside-out’ wide-forward on one side and the more defensively orientated Juarez on the other side, Hooper was left isolated up front. Meanwhile, a big gap emerged between Maloney who was trying his best to support Hooper and the other two deeper lying central midfield players. Again, only once Stokes was introduced as another wide-forward on the right did the whole team start to put pressure on the ball higher up the field and force Hamilton into the mistake that led to the third goal.
That was a long-winded ‘Zonal-Markingesque’ way of saying that instead of starting 4-4-2 and changing to a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 combination during the match it is time for Lennon to start that way. As any doctor will tell you prevention is better than cure and we must eliminate the sloppy starts that have caused us problems in the past few weeks, particularly in the upcoming Old Firm game.
We all know Rangers will come with the 5-4-1/4-5-1 system they have used so far in the Champions League. In order to avoid being overrun in midfield a central midfield three is a necessity and, bearing in mind recent injuries, Ledley and Juarez are a must. I’m also a fan of Ki Sung-Yeung but fear that the frenzied environment of an Old Firm game doesn’t suit his skills-set. Instead it might be better to go all out attack with Maloney playing ahead of Juarez and Ledley and behind a front three along the lines of Forrest (if fit), Hooper and Stokes.
Whatever the case may be it’s hard to criticise Lennon’s start. We all knew that hiring an inexperienced manager would have some pitfalls and to date, Utrecht apart, he has negotiated them successfully. The thunder may not have returned just yet but the clouds are on the horizon and hopefully by 3pm on October 24th Celtic Park will be rumbling once again.