3 Concerns Celtic Must Address for Festive Fixtures
During the month of October Celtic were involved in eight games across all competitions. Of the eight games we were only able to register three wins. Each of Celtic’s wins had hints of the free flowing football of seasons past, but yet again lapses in concentration defensively, along with periodic drops in tempo have only justified fans anxieties.
As we entered the international break a third of league games are now complete, we find ourselves sitting 2nd in the table and 9 points behind our rivals with two games in hand. Considering this is the season we are going for the 10 it’s safe to say that things could be going better.
Through this fixture packed period we have been hit hard with injuries and illness, a lot of which were out of Celtic's control as players were impacted whilst on international duty. Due to this we have been without the likes of Jullien, Ajer, Christie, Edouard, Elhammed, Bitton, Forrest and Ajeti which has meant we haven’t been able to play an unchanged starting 11 for more than two games. Despite missing these first team players we still had more than enough depth in the squad to handle the fixture schedule.
Three glaring concerns that have been identified over this period are how easy teams were finding it to create clear cut chances against our defence, how we lacked the ability to maintain a high tempo, and finally simple game management.
The 3-3 draw with Aberdeen at Pittodrie sums up the poor game management. After doing enough to pull ourselves level for the 2nd time in the game on the 76th minute, we found ourselves two minutes later with a penalty, which was converted by Ryan Christie to give us the lead for the first time in the game. At this point we needed to accept that it was a bad day at the office, get the formation changed as soon as the ball hit the back of the net and shore things up defensively for the final 12 minutes and see out the 3 points. It looked like things were going that way when Turnbull was brought on for Rogic, but the change didn’t seem to coincide with a change in formation. On the 92nd minute a defensive calamity by Celtic in our own box resulted in Callum McGregor giving away a sloppy penalty. Lewis Ferguson converted to level the game. On reflection, should Neil Lennon have taken advantage of the 5 substitution rule and taken off another attacking player and brought on Soro into the midfield? During the 12 minute period Celtic continued to press, where running the clock down and killing the game should have been priority.
The game on the 17th against our Glasgow rivals left fans feeling angry and frustrated due to the lack of fight in the team, which was very apparent for each of the goals conceded. For the first goal a poor attempt by Duffy highlighted the lack of communication between the team - and possibly a lack of training ground preparation. Another issue with the set piece that led to the opening goal was the mismatch of Elyounoussi and Goldson. This may be more of an issue with zonal defending but Rangers target man at set pieces should always have been covered by Duffy. These defensive lapses have been seen time and time again this season with simple errors being replicated under minimal pressure by the opposition.
Although the month was filled with disappointment, there were flashes of good that we can take positives from. We have shown that going forward we can reach the heights of previous seasons and bring that level of intensity and flair that is so great to watch. Elyounoussi has started delivering more consistently with goal contributions, most notably his hat trick against Motherwell in the 4-1 just before the break. Then there’s Tom Rogic who has produced some lovely link-up play between the midfield and forwards and gave us something to smile about again. Ryan Christie being awarded for the amount of work he does for the team with a great strike in the Semi-Final which was worthy of winning any match. Due to fitness of Griffiths he has mainly featured from the bench, but in these sparing appearances he has chipped in with 3 goals in the limited time he has been given. As a whole the team have been able to replicate, in flashes, some great football, we just need to see it in a more consistent basis.
After the international break Celtic go to Hibernian away at Easter Road. We know this will be a tough game as Hibs have looked strong at times this season, not to mention our poor record at Easter Road. It’s vital that Celtic get players back from international duty injury-free and get others who have been out back up to speed. Entering these Christmas fixtures, defensive shape, communication and fitness issues have to be addressed to help build some cohesion and put a run of wins together.
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