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Kilmarnock 1-2 Celtic: The value of attacking fullbacks

September 21, 2010

Celtic came through a tricky game at Rugby Park, bouncing back from going a goal down to eventually record a valuable win thanks largely to the tireless running of full-back, Emilio Izaguirre.

Celtic started this game with yet another slight difference to what has been witnessed so far this season, opting for what would most accurately be described as a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Scott Brown on the right to allow the play-making abilities of Kayal in central midfield. Interestingly, Maloney was selected as the man between the midfield and forward. The manager is finding his form in this role hard to ignore and even though Lennon is showing signs of a preference for some kind of 4-man midfield, he is looking at ways to keep Maloney in the centre. Hoever, an early injury to McCourt meant that Celtic switched to a 4-4-2 formation, with Stokes coming on to partner Murphy up front, as in the Hearts game last week. Despite the criticism it has recently received, there is no reason why a team cannot be successful using 4-4-2. The formation is merely the initial physical arrangement of the players on the field and doesn’t necessarily dictate how a team plays, with the actual player selection more important. The problem is that when attacking, the 4-4-2 is now more reliant on continual off-the-ball movement with numerous players shifting out of their zones to create different shapes and spare men in the right areas at the right time. Without this it can become both predictable and tedious to watch so a number of the players need to have this ability.

A lot of responsibility for said shifting falls on one or both of the full-backs. They usually have no direct opponent so often have the most space in front of them and are able to push forward to provide an extra body in midfield or attack. A lot of the time, they become the spare men in the attack and so can at times be the most important or influential players on the pitch (just look at the likes of Maicon or Dani Alves). They need to have pace, stamina and be willing to cover long distances – usually the most of all players on the pitch –  and often need to be proficient dribblers and crossers of the ball. Emilio Izaguirre  appears to have all of these attributes and he used them to good effect in both Celtic goals.

The first Celtic goal was from a Daryl Murphy penalty after a foul on Stokes in the penalty area. In the build up to this, Izaguirre had pushed on right up the left wing into a very advanced position. He stayed quite wide which drew a Kilmarnock player out there with him which subsequently stretched their defence and opened up space in the left inside channel, just inside the penalty area. Joe Ledley spotted this and made a good run into the space for Maloney to find him with a clever pass. Ledley then played to Stokes who was eventually fouled in the box and Murphy stepped up to confidently score his second penalty of the season. Maloney and Ledley must be given credit for their involvement, as it was their quick thinking which led the the eventual foul but Izaguirre’s attacking intent is what initially opened up the space.

Izaguirre is tracked by a Kilmarnock defender (circled) and opens up space in-field

The second Celtic goal resulted from a fairly similar situation but instead of being tracked by a Kilmarnock player, Izaguirre wasn’t and this allowed he and Maloney to double up on the defender. Izaguirre went on Maloney’s outside and after receiving the ball, delivered a quality cross into the ‘corridor of uncertainty’ between the goalkeeper and defence. Stokes, showing good predatory instincts to react before anyone else, tucked it away with an easy tap-in. Maloney was again involved and is fast becoming Celtic’s most influential player in the attacking third. Indeed, the left-hand side was particularly dangerous and where most of Celtic’s creativity came from and the pair almost created a third goal in near-identical fashion to the second. It is often a sign of a quality player if they are able to quickly forge a good playing relationship with new team-mates.

Izaguirre (red dot) provides an overlap for Maloney (yellow). Untracked, he is able to cross for Stokes to score

Conversely, the right-hand side was relatively impotent. Like Izaguirre, Cha Du-Ri tirelessly provided overlaps and was often among the furthest forward during a number of build-ups. However, Scott Brown, the right -sided midfielder in front of him didn’t make use of this outlet in the same way that Maloney did with Izaguirre. In Brown’s favour, there a question marks over the defensive ability of Cha Du-Ri and perhaps Brown’s ability to track back well was the reason behind this selection. Often when Brown sat back to cover, Kayal would shift diagonally out to the right wing to support Cha Du-Ri but as stated, relatively little was created from this side of the pitch. Something for the manager to think about?

Kilmarnock goal

A brief discussion must be made about the Kilmarnock goal. Celtic started this game very poorly and clearly weren’t in the correct mental state. This affected their early passing and off-the-ball movement but more worryingly their discipline and defensive shape. Celtic lost the ball and reacted very slowly in the transition phase from attack to defence, with not enough players looking to get back into their defensive positions. In a change from their attitude in games earlier on this season, the more more attacking players didn’t try to win the ball back quickly to slow down the Kilmarnock break. The team became stretched and proceed to make poor decision after poor decision, in particular Ledley committing himself and being beaten too easily. This completely opened up the field for Kilmarnock with the Celtic defence left effectively as ‘sitting ducks’. This is an example of how important the mentality of a side is before any kind of tactical considerations can be made. Without the right attitude, you can’t improve nor win titles and some would argue it is more important than ability. Thankfully, the side reacted well and if anything, the Kilmarnock goal was a ‘wake-up call’.

Full lineups


Bell; Clancy (Kelly 77), Wright, Pascali, Gordon;

Hamill, Bryson, Eremenko, Hay (Rui Miguel 71);

Forrester (Invincibile 63), Sammon

Subs not used: Letheren, Taouil, Old, Owens,


Forster; Cha, Loovens, Majstorovic, Izaguirre;

Brown, Ledley, Kayal (Ki 77) (Juarez 46); McCourt (Stokes 22);



Subs not used: Zaluska, Rogne, Twardzik, Samaras

13 Comments leave one →
  1. September 21, 2010 2:50 pm

    Great analysis again, really look forward to these after Celtic games.

    You should maybe added a twitter button on the page so that people can spread the word, just search for TweetMeme in wordpress plugins directory.

    Check out our Celtic t-shirts at

    Hail Hail

  2. Paks permalink
    September 21, 2010 3:40 pm

    Hi tictacs88

    After the 4-0 game against St Mirren I thought the team had eventually gelled but the next game was a disaster right from the kick off. I thought the same against Hearts when we could have scored more than 3. Again the next game (this one) we are all over the place at the beginning and struggled to make chances despite our possession.

    I am of the opinion that we need to start with a predator up front regardless of the formation or tactics we are going to deploy. We must have someone who is capable of scoring on from the beginning. Stokes or Hooper must start.

    Going back to us winning all the run in games and the league at the end of 2007-08 season, we seem to play better as a team when Scott Brown is not on the pitch. This has been evident several times since then and again on Sunday. We played a lot better in the second half when he was taken off. I hope the rumours of a January transfer have some truth in them.


    • September 22, 2010 11:26 am

      interesting point about playing a goalscorer regardless of tactics or formation. it’s definitely on way to go and is surely an option.

      have to say i agree on scott brown. i think he’s been most effective when used the more energtic one of the ‘2’ in a 4-2-3-1, but even then juarez has looked better in this role. there are a number of times where the team has looked better when he’s not been in the side yet he has walked straight back in when available. i wonder how long he will be persisted with. surely the juventus and inter rumours are nonsense though?

      • Paks permalink
        September 22, 2010 6:34 pm

        More than likely, if we can see how poor his passing and ball retention is, then I’m sure everyone else can. Apart from Neil Lennon that is or maybe he is forced to play him so we can sell?

      • September 22, 2010 9:59 pm

        It’s getting to the point now where Lennon seems to be his only supporter. There used to be fans and pundits who stood up for him but they’re becoming fewer and fewer. A number in the media have criticised him this season.

  3. adventurazura permalink
    September 21, 2010 3:52 pm

    Excellent post as usual.

    Rugby Park is, I suppose, a difficult place to visit for anyone so three points was of course very welcome. But I thought there were almost as many negatives as positives in the team performance. In the first 20 minutes it seemed to me already clear that Murphy and Maloney would not work as a front two; Murphy’s lack of movement providing little in the way of possibility for his quick thinking partner.

    Paddy McCourt, whose dribbling and ball-skill are thrilling on occasion seems to suffer from an almost comical lack of game awareness, paying no attention to where he is in relation to his team mates, carrying the ball up blind alleys and losing possession as often as creating something positive. He is of course a talent but a criticism often levelled at Aiden McGeady at this time applies even more so to McCourt. Already James Forrest seems to provide a more reliable option on the right. I also thought that Kayal’s distribution was very poor and that Celtic, perhaps surprisingly, really missed Scott Brown in his usual central position.

    As you note, the game drastically changed when Stokes came on for McCourt, with most of the attacking play following Maloney out to the left hand side where he linked up well with the excellent Izaguirre. I felt Stokes brought a good level of energy to the game and the play became more dynamic with his good movement and sharpness. For me, Murphy contributed very little, his penalty aside, and Samaras for Murphy is a substitution that would surely have happened were it not for the two injuries.

    The defence still looks far from secure and I think it’s fair to say that this team looks very much a work in progress. Main bright spot is still Shaun Maloney’s great start to the season.

    • September 22, 2010 11:19 am

      agree on mccourt, for all his natural talent he does often make poor decisions and as you say doesn’t seem that aware of what’s going on around him. he is also quite weak defensively. i think for the time being he is still best used against the weaker sides or as a sub who can come on a score the odd goal.

      the team’s definitely a work in progress. it’s still not clear what the best XI is and a number of new players are still settling in. maloney has been a revelation.

      • Paks permalink
        September 22, 2010 6:47 pm

        Hope you don’t mind me butting in on this one! Another major problem with Paddy is that he is a bit fragile. That’s twice now he has been injured in innocuous challenges.

      • September 22, 2010 9:57 pm

        Don’t mind at all, the more outside input the better. yeah he’s quite fragile, i think it’s down to not having a suitable physique for high-level football, for whatever reason.

  4. JeanPierre LeGuerre permalink
    September 21, 2010 4:18 pm

    Brown pushed down the right….. for me, a waste of resources. He has done well in the ‘holding’ 2 part of a 4-2-3-1. He doesn’t (for me) provide a real threat down the right flank. For those positions (attacking wide left and wide right off a central striker) we need a certain type of player….. forrest looked the part on one flank, maloney clearly isn’t the same out wide, as he is in the ‘hole’, mccourt isn’t enough of an athlete to be involved for 90mins… etc etc) As for someone who can get down the right, threaten, score the odd goal, but isn’t actually a striker………. anyone think we might miss Fortuné??

    (I know he wasn’t great, but he did seem to do that specific job quite well….)

    • September 22, 2010 11:14 am

      yes missing fortune could be a possibility but i think that maybe the manager wanted more goals from that position. when stokes played on the right against hearts he looked quite a goal threat. it’ll be interesting to see where hooper is played, he played just behind a striker against lyon so perhaps he has the versatility to be played wide also.

  5. Jean-Pierre Leguerre permalink
    September 22, 2010 8:25 pm

    tictacs88 – interesting thought re Hooper. Personally I think Maloney is best in that position (through the middle, behind a central striker) either as part of a 4-2-3-1 or even 4-4-1-1 if necessary.

    Probably agree re Lennon looking for goals from the man on the right. Directness and physicality are also a requirement in our league though, and he seems to have reverted to ‘wee men’ in the outside slots recently…. mccourt, forrest, maloney and even stokes. This means that only Murphy (an otherwise very limited player) is the only attacking player with any physicality. Samaras doesn’t count unfortunately….

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