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Braga 3-0 Celtic

July 30, 2010

Celtic and Braga fought out a scrappy game that was ultimately decided by some suspect refereeing and calamitous defending. That’s not to say Celtic’s performance wasn’t deserving of a 3-0 defeat – it was poor – but one could hardly argue Braga were deserving of a victory by that margin either (particularly hard to take were their play-acting antics, though we should have become accustomed to this with the Portuguese opponents we’ve faced in recent times).

Braga were the better team, there’s no doubt about that, but they didn’t really test Zaluska other than the penalty and free-kick howler. They were better in possession but were the better side more due to being more organised with each player knowing what their role was within the team – the same can’t be said about us.

Starting Lineup. Arrows (roughly) show general movement

We started with Samaras up front on his own. The midfield could be described as a ‘2-3’, a ‘4-1’ or a ‘5’ but mostly lined up with four across and Brown (then later Maloney) slightly more advanced. Maloney started on the right but was switched with Brown during the first half. This may have been to use Brown’s closing down prowess on Elderson, the Braga left-back, who had had a lot of time on the ball before this change and was the starting point for a number of Braga’s attacks.

Braga were deployed in a 4-4-2 formation and kept this for the duration of game, even when substitutions were made.

The selection was strange

  • Cha Du-Ri started at right-back despite Wilson being preferred in all the major recent friendlies – an odd move. Wilson was more familiar to the role being asked to play – he was getting into good positions in the recent friendlies and despite not making use of them enough, he was growing into the role – and obviously more familiar with his team-mates. Surely it would have made more sense to give Cha Du-Ri more game time in preparation for this game if he had been earmarked to start? That said, one of the only half-chances came because of his energetic overlapping runs, which gave Maloney room to put in an excellent cross.
  • Juarez and Ki were given deep central midfield roles.  Juarez played in central midfield for Mexico in the World Cup as well the friendly against England where Lennon first noticed him, however, the type of role he was given against Braga was very different. For Mexico, he brought driving runs and energy from midfield, almost as a ‘box-to-box’ player. Against Braga, he played as a defensive midfielder, almost in a holding role, and was the player who more than anyone else collected the ball from the defence. This wasn’t a great move as his passing is not the best – that’s not one of his strengths and it surely isn’t what he was brought in for – and this job should have been Ki’s. Other than some wayward passing,  Juarez was one of the better performers as defensively he was very good, particularly the tracking of opposition midfield runners.

Ki had a poor game. He didn’t show enough courage to get on the ball, rarely making himself available to his defenders. This – rather than being an instruction from the manager –  is probably the reason for Juarez coming back and doing this job. On top of this, Ki seems too scared to get involved in any physical challenges or make tackles, leading to other players rushing back an committing fouls. His performance makes the leaving out of Marc Crosas all the more galling. Despite his size, he doesn’t shirk challenges and always makes himself available for a pass. He takes on the responsiblity of collecting the ball from the defence and directing team-mates – generally the team has played better football when he is included and the results have been better. He has his obvious weaknesses but when looking at the alternatives his absence under successive managers is baffling.

  • Scott Brown started in an advanced midfield role. This may have been to have him pressing in front of 4 midfielders who were covering behind – a justified tactic, due to his strengths – but it really limited Celtic in an attacking sense. He isn’t an attacking midfielder, he doesn’t have the quality but his strength, energy, enthusiasm and aggression can be very useful if utilised in the right way. More suitable would have been a role on the right  from the start, where he could cover Cha Du-Ri’s forward bursts and defend against Elderson. If not that position, then he could also have been suited to Juarez’s, though the same problem of having a weaker passer starting build-ups would have been faced.
  • Joe Ledley played on the left. The oddity with this decision is that he has played in the centre in the pre-season games and played the majority of his final games for Cardiff there too. His performance showed why. It wasn’t that bad but he was largely ineffective there, often coming in-field into central positions anyway though this was in part to Samaras drifting out to the left (which we shall deal with later).
  • Samaras started up front. Samaras isn’t a striker – he doesn’t have the predatory instinct of one – and isn’t a target man – despite his height he isn’t aerially dominant, his first touch is inconsistent and his link-up play can be very poor. He is only of consistent use when played on the left of a front 3 or left of a 3 behind a lone forward, though not on the left of a midfield 4 in a 4-4-2 (he isn’t strong defensively enough) meaning he’s only really of use in a limited number of systems. He is much more comfortable on the left and so continually drifts out there, leaving nobody up front. This can be useful if it pulls defenders out of position with midfielders running into the space but his tendency to do this is very predictable for the opposition. Also, no-one from midfield other than Maloney even attempted to make use of space on the few occasions that Samaras created any. Sometimes Samaras’ drifts to the left meant that the shape became lopsided and looked like this:

    Samaras' leftward drifting caused a peculiar shape with 6 in midfield and no-one up front

  • One defence has been that Samaras didn’t get any service, this is a false claim as the team was set up to build attacks around him and they generally broke down due to him. We looked to get the ball up to him for flick-ons or to take down and link-up with the midfield, this was the way that attacks were mostly attempted. Most of the time his flick-ons were wayward – though, in his defence not enough runners tried to reach them – but more at fault was his general link-up. How can the midfield supply him if he causes earlier phases of the attack – which  aim to get the midfield into positions to supply him – to break down? And, the one half chance that was created (thanks to Cha Du-Ri’s overlapping run making space for Maloney to cross) came to nothing because of his lack of a striker’s instinct. Maloney put in an excellent ball into the ‘corridor of uncertainty’ but Samaras was flat on his heels –  a striker would have been moving before the ball came in.

After the penalty there was little of interest tactically. The 2nd half continued in the same way with Celtic still struggling to trouble the opposition goalkeeper and Braga happy to be patient and wait for openings rather than throw men forward. At times Braga showed how a team can control a game without having the ball, forcing us to pass in unthreatening areas, knowing that we would eventually run out of ideas or make a mistake, usually a poor pass. The poor showing in possession by Celtic could be attributed to just not performing but an allowance should be made for players being unfamiliar with each other and in some cases the roles they were given.

On 65 minutes Braga brought on Matheus (for Lima, up front) and this made little change to their tactics though he was to make quite an impact later on, taking corner for the 2nd goal and scoring the free-kick for the 3rd.

Another strange move by Lennon

On 70 minutes Maloney was replaced by Murphy, with Celtic shifting to a more orthodox 4-4-2, or at least that was the plan. Again, Samaras inclination to drift to the left often left the shape looking like this:

The thinking behind the substitution must have been to get someone up front who would stay more central. But, with Samaras effectively playing on the left-wing it surely would have made more sense to remove he rather than Maloney. Furthermore, Maloney’s movement and play ‘between the lines’ had been one of the few ways in which Celtic looked in any way threatening. A weakness of the 4-4-2 is that there can be space between the midfield and defence – one reason for the trend away from it – and as this was Braga’s formation, Maloney’s work in this space was the only real threat to them. It wasn’t great, but it was something. Going like-for-like made it even easier for Braga and we became pretty much toothless in attack.

Then two pieces of madness

Dreadful defending on a corner lead to the 2nd Braga goal before a goalkeeping howler got them a third. The picture below shows how we outnumbered them in the box yet still manager to let them score. Notice also how Samaras (sorry, him again) left too much space for the flick-on.

7 vs. 4 - criminal - and Samaras leaving too much space

Not defending corners properly in Europe is suicidal and we were deservedly punished for it.

After the game, the defence bore the brunt of the criticism but in reality they weren’t actually that bad. They held a good line and, defensively at least, weren’t nearly as bad as made out. In modern football all 11 players have to defend and this wasn’t the case on Wednesday night.

That said, the defending as a whole wasn’t as bad as made out and it was ultimately silly mistakes which added up to a poor performance and puts our future in the Champions League in doubt.

Let’s hope that one of the Emirates Cup games is used to get the XI out on the park who will play the 2nd leg and properly prepared for it.

Full lineups



Rodriguez, Garcia, Moises, Elderson;

Alan(H. Barbosa 90), Madrid, Salino, Vandinho;

Cesar, Lima (Matheus 65)



Cha, Loovens, Hooiveld, Mulgrew;

Maloney (Murphy 70), Ki, Juarez (Forrest 79), Ledley;



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