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Motherwell 0-1 Celtic

August 30, 2010

First Half

Celtic started this game with a switch away from the front-three formations of the previous few games to a 4-4-2, with Daryl Murphy coming in to partner Giorgios Samaras up front and Joe Ledley moving back to his preferred central midfield position (alongside Scott Brown) thanks to the arrival of new left-back Emilio Izaguirre. The switch in formation may have been to due to the small Fir Park pitch – thankfully in better condition than in recent seasons – reducing the likelihood of a 4-4-2 becoming stretched when attacking, and so less distances between the lines. The size of the pitch was a factor on the game and this is something Celtic will have to contend with regularly this season, with tactical changes a possibility when playing away from Celtic Park. Some managers see the pitch size as being very important, with innovative Chile boss Marcelo Bielsa known for – amongst other things – pacing out the length before every game and then making changes to his game-plan.

Shaun Maloney started on the left of the midfield four, with more freedom to roam than anyone else and his ability to do this intelligently was evident right from the start. Drifting inwards into the penalty area he met a ball in from the right at the near post but was unable to connect properly, allowing the Motherwell goalkeeper, Randolph to make a save. Maloney’s inward surges caused problems for Motherwell in the first-half, particularly when Celtic attacked down the right through Forrest or Cha Du-Ri. When this occurred, Maloney would burst into the penalty area, usually arriving at the near post, whilst Motherwell’s back-line had difficulty in designating who should pick him up. When Celtic had possession in the left half of the field, Maloney’s inward drifts didn’t cause quite as many problems but was enough to pull Motherwell players out of position and create space for others.

Motherwell manager Craig Brown is one of the more tactically astute of SPL bosses, and he showed this in the game. His initial game-plan seemed to be to stifle Celtic and, Maloney’s runs in the box excluded, he did this well. Motherwell defended deep, narrow and in numbers and were happy to surrender the wide areas where, due to the pitch size, there wasn’t much space anyway. This made it difficult for Celtic to penetrate their defence, the best chances coming thanks to the individual ability of right-winger James Forrest, with him only needing a yard of space to deliver a good cross. At other times Celtic tried to play through the congested central area and didn’t have any joy. Craig Brown was also quick to attempt to deal with Maloney’s movement, with his players instructed to stay tighter to him. When this was the Motherwell right-back, Saunders, it created space down that side though this wasn’t always taken advantage of by the Celtic players.

The general story of the first-half was that both sides defended in numbers though Celtic committed more players than Motherwell in attack, and neither side had a great deal of penetration . Motherwell tended to keep more players back when attacking, and so didn’t really cause any problems for Celtic. Their main method of getting forward were long-balls to John Sutton and Celtic dealt with them comfortably, particularly when Majstorovic was involved. Occasionally, Motherwell got more joy against Glenn Loovens as he isn’t as aerially dominant but their lack of support for Sutton meant Celtic were still comfortable. Daryl Murphy’s inclusion gave Celtic the option to sometimes go long as well which was often suitable given the lack of passing space on the Fir Park pitch, and he did well both aerially and at taking the ball into feet. Samaras started to roam more as the half went on, dragging more Motherwell players out of position, with the Celtic players keener to take advantage of the space. Even so, Celtic were unable to really trouble Randolph enough and the game remained goalless at half-time.

Second Half

Celtic kept the same line-up and formation for the start of the second-half, but had now tasked the two central midfielders, in particular Brown, to get more involved in attack. In the first half he kept his passing simple and mostly stayed behind the ball alongside Ledley, but now looked to play one-twos, drive forward with the ball and generally support the forwards more. Celtic also tried to increase the tempo, each player taking less touches and looking to release the ball quicker than in the first half but Motherwell made this difficult by pressing offensively. They generally pressed on the half-way line, with their front-man occasionally individually applying pressure on the Celtic centre-backs.

Motherwell had made changes to their line-up, with target-man Sutton dropping into midfield and Blackman now as their lone forward. This meant a reduction in high balls and an attempt instead to get balls over the top for Blackman to chase. They also tried to attack in greater numbers but Celtic’s defence were no more troubled nor more comfortable than they had been in the first half.

Despite Celtic’s slight changes they still lacked penetration and it took a substitution and change in formation for them to start looking more dangerous. Paddy McCourt came on for Samaras which meant a switch to the 4-2-3-1 used against St.Mirren and ICT, with the ‘Derry Pele’ playing on the left and Maloney switching to his more effective central role, between the midfield and attack. This change gave Maloney more freedom to get forward and influence play further up-field than he had been able to before the change, rather than shift sideways. His movement and touch allowed him to find just enough space between the lines to play dangerous passes but he would also make runs beyond his front-man at times. This amplified Motherwell’s earlier problem of not being sure as to who should pick him up.

Celtic’s change gave them more passing options and they began to exert pressure more but it was a defensive lapse from Motherwell that led to the goal. Their back-line was uncharacteristically high up the pitch when Majstorovic returned a goal-kick with a powerful header for Maloney, in one of his runs ahead of Murphy, to latch onto and break away and carry the ball into the penalty area for Saunders to push him to the ground. A penalty and red card were deservedly awarded and Murphy stepped up to tuck it away with aplomb.

Motherwell, now down to ten men, tried their best to salvage something from the game but Celtic’s spare man made this very difficult. Celtic looked more dangerous, through the unpredictable movement and skill of McCourt and Maloney but didn’t really take advantage of their numerical superiority. Considering the hammering given by Utrecht however, we should be grateful to bounce back with a win, particularly against a well organised side who in recent seasons we may have drawn a blank against or given a sloppy goal to.

What else of interest?

  • In previous articles, we have stressed the need for Celtic to improve when transitioning from defence to attack and this game showed this flaw again. On numerous occasions Celtic won the ball back but weren’t quick enough to take advantage of Motherwell being out of their defensive shape – though they should get credit for getting back quickly. If one is to point the finger at individuals then Samaras is someone who was most at fault, often taking too many touches, getting his head up too slowly and not releasing the ball quick enough.
  • Emilio Izaguirre looks like a promising signing. Lennon said he didn’t put a foot wrong all game and I’m inclined to agree. Could the left-back problem finally be sorted? Lee Naylor started well too…
  • More has been seen of Daryl Murphy now and he looks more technical than his previous clubs suggest. He also looked decent in the air, showed good hold-up play and is able (if asked) to lead line as a more traditional target-man, something Celtic have lacked in recent times.
  • Though with the 4-4-2 Celtic looked threatening at times, the 4-2-3-1 again looks far better in an attacking sense, particularly with Maloney in the central role. Hopefully, this will become our first choice system though it is good to have others as options as well.




Cha, Majstorovic, Loovens, Izaguirre;

Forrest, Brown, Ledley, Maloney;

Samaras (McCourt 67), Murphy

Subs Not Used: Zaluska, Juarez, Hooiveld, Ki, Towell, Kayal



Saunders, Reynolds, Craigan, Hammell;

Humphrey (Forbes 72), Jennings (Blackman 45), Lasley, Hateley;

Sutton, Murphy

Subs Not Used: Hollis, McHugh, Fitzpatrick, Casagolda

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 31, 2010 1:51 am

    Nice post.

    Except you appear to overlook the significance of shipping out ‘butterfingers’ Zaluska.

    I’d also add that Samaras is a repeat offender as regards the charges above. He’s had more than enough chances to come good now. It’s increasingly obvious that he is ‘fool’s gold’ – I for one am at a loss as to why Lennon persists with him.

    • August 31, 2010 2:20 pm

      re. zaluska, this was overlooked because it wasn’t a particularly significant influence on the game as a whole nor on tactics. agree that some mention should have been made though.

      re. samaras, indeed he is a repeat offender but the manager must see the raw talent that is there. samaras hasn’t displayed it regularly enough thus far but when he does he can be unplayable. even when playing poorly he draws in multiple opposition players and creates space for others. his problems appear to be mental more than anything else, and maybe lennon feels he can be the one to sort them out.

  2. adventurazura permalink
    September 1, 2010 11:49 pm

    I too feel that the 4-2-3-1 system is the one that looks most hopeful with current personnel. For one thing it means that our best player, Shaun Maloney, when played in the middle of the 3, is more often involved in situations where his skill and ability to make good decisions will hurt the opposition.

    I’ve been really encouraged by most of Shaun’s performances this season; he seems to have become stronger again and isn’t getting knocked off the ball or marginalised like he’s been in the past two seasons (when fit). It would just be great to see his younger gallusness come back too – I think a true number 10 needs a bit of this!

    Anyway, I really love your blog and will follow it through the season. Well done.

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