Then we have Ledley/Commons. Once again Joe Ledley was efficiently good, putting in a workman’s like performance in a position where he’s not at his peak. He was good as good as can be on the left, but obviously he is the engine of the Celtic team when playing in the middle of the park.
Commons, however, showed that he isn’t as comfortable on the right and was for the first time in a Celtic shirt, rather quite poor. He looked very isolated and almost uncomfortable, and even something as simple (For him) as going by players, he just wasn’t the same. It could be a number of things; obviously players have bad games, but is it a coincidence that he was moved to the other side of the pitch and played the way he did?
You then throw Scott Brown in to the mix: ‘Broony’ played terrifically as a wide midfielder on the right last season and become more and more like the player we paid £4.4 million for. His on field presence is huge and there’s no denying he’s grown somewhat since Lennon took over. He is the captain, and can’t really afford to be dropped.
So what does Neil Lennon do? Given Ledley plays his best in the centre of the park, and Commons isn’t quite adapt to wide right, it means key players have to be left out.
Or, you can always change things around a little bit.
Last year, I did an article for the site about how Celtic should line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Despite criticism from some quarters, we did actually play that formation for the first quarter of the season and won eight games in a row as a result (We started this formation in the 3-1 defeat at home to Rangers but when Maloney went off early on we had to change to 4-3-3 as Juarez was the replacement.).
I’m not suggesting that we go this route again, but a slight tweak to our system could be what’s needed.
It’s clear to see that midfield is by far our strongest area of the squad. It would be then wise to utilise that and play around to what you have – which would be playing three central midfielders at the one time.
The great thing about the central midfield that we have is that every one of them is different; Kayal is the tough tackling player who literally stands up to every challenge, Ki is the more technical player who can spray a range of passes from two yards to 72 yards, Ledley is the one who is more box-to-box and keeps the team flowing and does all the dirty work without being noticed and Brown is the energetic one who will run about for the entire game and get in the opponents faces as much as possible. We have Wanyama too, but it’s far too early to tell what he can deliver.
Looking at today’s game, and you can sort of build from what Lennon is trying to do and what he has at his disposal. In the second half in particular, the two central midfielders played quite deep and pressured the opposition in to giving the ball away numerous times. Once the ball was played out there was a large gap between midfield and the two strikers. Any man can see it’s pure counter-attacking football, but it worked well and Hibs struggled to deal with our pace and passing today.
It’s not as easy as suggesting “2+2=4” in what has been shown but there is a lot of logic in playing a more attacking 4-3-3 formation and getting the best out of our very talented midfield.
It’s not just about the midfield, though; we have the attacking prowess in Izaguirre and the ever improving Mark Wilson (A great example is his involvement in the ‘offside’ goal today), as well as the strikers available to play around this.
Anthony Stokes has shown his versatility throughout last season, particularly when playing through the channels and linking up with Hooper and playing from the right. Despite being moved about occasionally, he still scored 19 goals last season. His finishing is there to see and despite many Celtic supporters’ calls for a star striker to be brought in, I think Stokes deserves to be in the team along with Hooper. I would like to see another striker added, but not as a direct replacement for Stokes.
The last piece of the jigsaw is Kris Commons. It was quite a phenomenal piece of business when you look at the value of his transfer – he’s already become vital to the club. He would thrive on the left of a front three, and we all saw how effective he was last season when cutting in. Despite his performance today, it’s quite clear he needs to be pushed up further and given less defensive responsibility, because he offered virtually none to Mark Wilson and I’m sure it would be a similar scenario if it happens again.
Given that one or two of the midfield would deal more with the defensive side of play and covering, Commons and Stokes wouldn’t need to worry as much about tracking back and let them play to their own strengths.
We all know how the likes of Stokes and Commons play, so the last couple of paragraphs were probably pretty pointless! But someone like myself stressing about this is hopefully shows how important the matter may be, and let’s be honest; if it means winning the title back then we should be already be looking in to things such as this.
Once Lennon has sorted out the issue of fitting his current players in to the starting XI, he then has the task of bringing in a couple more faces and hopefully getting rid of a few more.
I don’t think we need anyone spectacular in now because we have the nucleus of our squad already, but it’s small issues such as another goalkeeper, striker (Assuming Samaras/Rasmussen leave) and if a couple of defenders leave, another centre back too.
It’s a lot of work for Lennon and the coaching staff to deal with in just five short weeks, so we can only hope that this is the beginning of what is a monumental season for Neil Lennon and fans alike.