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Emirates Cup: two good fightbacks; Forrest stakes his claim; Juarez excellent

August 3, 2010

A fairly entertaining weekend of football – as far as far friendlies can be anyway – for the Emirates Cup, not least because of two good comebacks which exemplify the growing team spirit Lennon and his staff are instilling in the side. There were also encouraging individual performances with Juarez, Ledley, Cha Du-Ri and Hooper looking like good signings but perhaps more noteworthy was the emergence of young James Forrest.

His displays in earlier pre-season friendlies showed promise and that he had a chance of being in and around the first team squad but against Lyon on saturday he was the standout performer. One doesn’t want to get too carried away with any youngster, not least because it was friendly, but he showed a number of facets to his game that should have no problem being transferred into competitive action. He consistently delivered quality ball into dangerous areas, not just due of the accuracy and pace of his crossing but also because he is close to mastering the art of when,  largely down to always having his head up when on the ball. Comparisons with Aiden McGeady are inevitable and these strengths so far shown by Forrest are the same areas of his game for which McGeady has largely been criticised. Also worth a mention are his footballing intelligence and defensive work rate, appearing to be beyond what you would expect of most players of his age.

Glimpses of what’s to come?

As the domestic season draws nearer, we are seeing more and more of what is likely to be the weekly style of play against SPL opposition, in games we expect to win. We started both the Lyon and Arsenal games rather cautiously and didn’t look very comfortable doing so, but in the last quarter (or so) of each game took on a more attacking mentality. This way of playing is how one would hope (and expect) we approach most SPL games, as well as games where we have to simply ‘go for it’.

Lyon 2-2

We started this game keeping the defence narrow and deep, defending with two banks of four with one of Hooper of Fortune (usually the latter) staying forward whilst the other would come back to press the central area just in front of our midfield. The picture (Fig.1, below) shows this. Most attacks came from good counters and but for the finishing of Fortune, we could have been one or two goals in front fairly early on. Though he must be criticised for not taking chances, Fortune’s link-up with the midfield and with Hooper was still good and he at least is getting in the positions to score goals, something he did less of last season.

Fig.1: Back 4 marked in green, midfield (blue) and Hooper (yellow)

Notice in the picture above the width of the back four, very narrow, meaning Celtic were vulnerable in the wide areas particularly as Lyon attacked with lots of width, making it important that Forrest (on the right) and McGeady (left) tracked back. Unfortunately, McGeady didn’t perform this duty adequately – possibly down to a lack of match fitness, though it has never been his strong point – and so Lyon got most joy down our much maligned left-hand side. The weakness of our left has been well documented and it was exposed again for Lyon’s 2nd goal (fig.2 below):

Fig.2: Lyon's 2nd goal, same markings as Fig.1

Filip Twardzik (left back, nearest player of the back 4) – who showed promise in both games, though also that he’s not quite ready  – had gone quite far forward for a Celtic attack and so Ledley dropped back into defence to cover for him. Lyon won the ball and broke to the area shown in the picture. During that time, Twardzik tried to get back into the defensive line but you can see that he couldn’t do this quick enough and isn’t level with the other 3, whilst also leaving too much room between himself and his nearest centre-back. Ledley (the left central midfielder, 2nd-nearest ‘blue’) has by this time tried to move back into his midfield line but has encountered the same problem as Twardzik by not getting there quick enough, leaving far too much room for the ball-carrier (red) to play a pass to Lacazette (orange). The speed of Lyon’s break limited the amount of time Twardzik and Ledley had to get back into their respective lines and so the team’s shape is not good (as shown). This didn’t actually occur that much but this level opposition of are capable of taking advantage of it – a warning sign for Wednesday. Perhaps as he was the nearest man to the ball-carrier and it being almost impossible for Ledley to get out to pressure him, McGeady (nearest ‘blue’) should have been the man to stop the pass coming through. He actually stood pretty much in the same spot as in the picture for the duration of the Lyon move.

The fightback wasn’t especially due to any kind of tactical ingenuity – it doesn’t always have to be – and perhaps owed more to a desire to not be beaten. That said, Celtic did start to press higher up the pitch whilst holding a higher line, including the full-backs coming out to press the opposition wingers more rather than tuck in to a narrow back line. In turn, the wingers (Forrest, and Maloney in place of McGeady) pressed the opposition full-backs more leading to a few mini-breaks down the right hand-side involving Forrest.

Lyon had become so worried about Forrest that they started to surround him with players (Fig. 3, below).

Fig.3: Forrest's performance worried Lyon so much that he drags 3 of them with him

This included the Lyon left-back, who elected to mark him tightly. But, on one occasion Forrest’s skill enabled him to flick the ball past him into the space behind (created by the left-back staying tight) and get away down the right flank to eventually deliver another good cross into the box for Hooper to tap in from close-range.

Hooper

It was pleasing to see the new striker get a goal in his first game. It wasn’t the most difficult of chances but it still required a level of composure to take it.  From a movement point of view, Hooper didn’t have to do much as he was given a lot of room by the Lyon defence. A couple of times in the first half however, he demonstrated the sort of off-the-ball movement to offer hope that he could score plenty of goals this season, provided he has the service. On one occasion when the ball broke down the right for Cha Du-Ri, Hooper moved inside his marker, then outside, then in again to get in front of him and was a whisker away from getting a touch on the eventual cross and opening the scoring. He didn’t just show good predatory instincts either, often dropping back to be involved in the build-up and showing competence at this too. It could make for a welcome change (as well as being a change with the times) to have our main goalscorer capable of contributing more than just scoring goals.

Another key to the fightback was the willingness of more of our players to get forward, with good numbers getting into the box. This, coupled with Lyon bringing on a number of reserves – meaning their structure was weakened – lead to an almost total turnaround to the score.

One final thing of note was the introduction of Efrain Juarez. Playing on the right of the centre of midfield, he linked up well Forrest and Cha Du-Ri. They worked as a trio, always supporting each other in attack and defence and taking turns for one to go wide with one in-field whilst the other supported or covered. Juarez also added driving runs from central midfield, and the energy to get up and down the pitch, almost as a ‘box-to-box’ player.

Fig.4: The Forrest-Juarez-Cha trio (circled)

Arsenal 3-2

Celtic started this game very defensively and due to the more important game on Wednesday, mostly selected fringe players. Instead of the 4-4-1-1 defensive shape employed against Lyon, we set up with two banks of four with Marc Crosas in between them, giving lots of  room to Arsenal’s midfield. Their attack simply overwhelmed us and like Lyon, they found particular joy down our left-hand side. This was, in part, down to the defensive positioning of Charlie Mulgrew but also the fact that he was offered next to no protection from Daryl Murphy (selected on the left of a midfield 5). The complete mis-match in pace between Theo Walcott and Mulgrew added to the problem.

Celtic were almost non-existent from an attacking point of view with very few players even venturing into the Arsenal half. Morten Rasmussen was the lone front-man and had little support as well as receiving passes he could do very little with.

Fig.5: Rasmussen (yellow) isolated. Arsenal (all marked in red) can deal with it comfortably

Arsenal’s high pressing also caused problems to our fluency, making it difficult to get out of our half.

Then comes the change

We continued to struggle in this fashion and after going 3-0 down made a change to the system, roughly on the hour mark. In came Fortune, Samaras, Du-Ri and Twardzik for Rasmussen, Crosas, Hinkel and Mulgrew respectively, meaning a change in shape to something that would probably be described as 4-4-2. Such descriptions are becoming old-fashioned however and should only be used as loose, short explanation of the physical deployment of the team. Throughout this period Celtic attacked in shapes that approached 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1, and 4-3-3 and so the key is to not focus on these numbers, and rather on the variety and fluidity of the attack.

Most of the attacking shapes involved having one man at the point of the attack with usually a wide line of 3 or 4 in support, the fluidity coming from the fact that the composition of this shape varied. Fortune, Murphy, Samaras, Maloney, Juarez, Ki and even Cha Du-Ri had turns as the lead front man with others behind in the 3 or 4 (which, in turn, would also be made up of different individuals). Whenever a different player went furthest forward, the others would shift accordingly to keep the line behind, adding unprectability to the attack due to each player arriving from their different individual starting positions. The pictures below are just two examples of this, the first (Fig. 6) shows Murphy as the furthest forward and the second (Fig. 7) shows Cha Du-Ri.

Fig.6: Murphy (circled) as the point of the attack

Fig.7: Cha Du-Ri (circled) as the point of the attack

Most of the time, Maloney held his position wide on the left with his left-back staying back and Ki (playing as the left-sided central midfielder) holding with most of the variability involving players on the other side – Fortune (wide right), Juarez (right central midfielder), Cha Du-Ri (right-back) and the two forwards (Murphy, Samaras). For example, sometimes Fortune would drift inwards opening up space for Du-Ri to get down the right flank but other times Fortune would stay wide and so Juarez would burst forward instead. Even then though, such was the variety of the attack, Juarez and Du-Ri even took turns to do this.

The change also brought physical presence of Fortune and Samaras, adding to Murphy’s already on the pitch (who had now been moved to a more central role) and the Arsenal backline struggled to cope with it. It allowed us to go more direct when we wanted to, with Samaras (mostly just behind Murphy) winning a number of high-balls from which we were able to build attacks.

Juarez rises to prominence

Another feature of the change in system was the change in role for Juarez. There has been a lot of talk of ‘double-pivots’ during and after the World Cup, with a number of teams using their own versions of them (depending on the players they have). One version is to have a double-pivot with one holding and the other breaking forward, playing almost like a box-to-box player. This is close to the setup Celtic switched to with Ki as one and Juarez as the other. Most of the time, it was Ki who stayed back and Juarez who broke forward but occasionally they reversed these roles and this is what happened with Celtic’s 2nd goal, with Ki getting into the box to reach Fortune’s cross. Juarez played something similar to this for Mexico and demonstrated his use in this role in both the Lyon and Arsenal games. He regularly got forward, popping up in different channels each time (depending on who was the lead front man), often venturing into the box whilst also having the energy to get back and help the defence. On top of this, he showed some good passing, a willingness to shoot (something our midfield has lacked in recent years) and was very direct when in possession, driving the team forward. It is clearly his best role, emerging as Celtic’s best player in this game and if this is a sign of things to come then Juarez is going to be a fans’ favourite.

The other 2 big changes were firstly that Celtic pressed a lot higher up the pitch, trying not to let Arsenal settle on the ball as they had done earlier on and this led to the Celtic penalty (a stone-waller, despite the commentator’s claims) and secondly that generally more players got forward (see below).

Fig.8: Look at number of Celtic players (yellow dots) compared to Arsenal players (red dots)

Conclusion

Despite the defeat, getting the score back to 3-2 was pretty satisfactory, particularly as it tempered the [pre-requisite] arrogance of the Arsenal support but also because it was against a stronger Arsenal than the one which began the game. Another positive is that the team are doing more of what they appear to have been coached to do, so Lennon and his staffs’ work is begninning to show. The biggest thing to take from both games, however, is the enthusiasm of the players and their growing team spirit.

The Braga game on Wednesday will be a big ask and perhaps the whole tie just came too soon for the team – even now there still appears to be a number of areas which could be filled with new players – but we can certaintly go into the game with confidence that we won’t make it as easy for Braga this time. With a bouncing home support who knows what could happen?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. NickMcD permalink
    August 3, 2010 7:21 pm

    Great work!

    Given what you identify as Juarez’s strengths and what appears to be his best position, do you feel that he offers us a lot of what Brown does, but much better?

    How would you see them lining up in the same team?

    • August 4, 2010 11:42 am

      It’s a difficult one. I still don’t think we have found Brown’s best role within the team, which is a bit of a worry. Some wanted him to be the new Petrov because, physically at least, they’re similar. But, Brown doesn’t have the attacking ability of Petrov – finishing, incisive passing etc.

      He has great stamina, enthusiasm, work rate and aggression and I think these things are necessary for a team like ours. But, Juarez appears to have all of these too but with greater ability on the ball.

      I think Brown perhaps should play a more defensive role. Not a holding role as it is a waste of his strengths, but one where he can press the opposition, get in their faces and just generally make himself a nuisance. Obviously this would have to be balanced with better ball players beside him.
      The trouble with this is we lose a more attacking player and we’ll be more in need of them week in week out in the SPL. So that kind of restricts him to tough European away games, but even then you’d prefer a more reliable passer.

      As far as lining up alongside Juarez, I’m not sure how this could work. They do seem to have been asked to play similar roles, with Juarez offering more so far. Perhaps Juarez was seen as an eventual replacement for Brown but has settled quicker than expected?

      Brown needs a good season and he needs to find his role in the team and make it his own. Otherwise the fear is that the impatience with him will grow.

  2. liam arthur permalink
    August 3, 2010 8:42 pm

    Great site, well done! We’ve really needed something that rises above the “Telfer is shite” analysis!

  3. NickMcD permalink
    August 4, 2010 12:59 pm

    My thoughts on Brown exactly! Rather worrying to have it confirmed. I cannot see him and Juarez lining up together in a balanced and versatile midfield.

    I don’t really understand why we haven’t used Crosas more as a complementary ball-player alongside Brown.

    • August 4, 2010 3:49 pm

      yes the omission of crosas under successive managers is a peculiar one.
      i think that maybe neil lennon’s comments about wanting to bring a more direct style of play could be why he doesn’t seem to favour crosas. crosas’ ball retention is very good, he is more suited to a slower, possession style of play.
      he would have been perfect for the braga 1st leg.

  4. NickMcD permalink
    August 4, 2010 6:12 pm

    Yep, with our problems in keeping the ball against even SPL opposition, I can’t understand why he isn’t used more. Since Naka, he appears to be the only player we have capable of receiving the ball under pressure.

    That said, the whole ‘concept’ of Crosas is very seductive given the tactical trends at the very top level – I wonder if that blinds me a little sometimes.

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