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Celtic 2-1 Hibernian: Did the real Scott Brown just stand up?

September 27, 2010

Scott Brown put in a man of the match performance against Hibernian and stamped his authority all over the midfield. Like the team as a whole, he was far from perfect, but was definitely the best and most influential player on the pitch.

The Hooper-Stokes partnership continued up front, which again showed promise. Juarez was fielded on the right of the midfield four and looks like he is growing into this position. Maloney played on the left and had a poor game by his standards so far this season, with him unable to exert much of an influence on the game. This was partly down to the selection of Mulgrew, stepping in for the injured Izaguirre, at left-back.

Better Brown

Things couldn’t have started better for Brown and Celtic, scoring an excellent goal in the first five minutes. After a spell of possession, Juarez lost his man with some good work, speeding up the play and creating an opening. Brown received the ball, played it forward to the impressive Stokes and bombed forward ahead of him into the space created by both the Irishman dropping deep and the other Hibernian defenders being occupied by Hooper and Ledley. Brown collected a return pass, carried the ball to the edge of the box and struck the ball past Mark Brown with a quality finish. It wasn’t just his goal that was impressive though, but his overall performance.

Both Brown and Celtic were sparked into life with their confidence boosted the early goal, dominating the first half with the tenacious midfielder at the heart of most moves. Celtic kept possession well but at times needed someone to provide something different or speed up play, and Brown was one of the players to provide this. The manager wants to play at a high tempo and Brown’s style of play suits this, when he plays well. His use of the ball was always intelligent, spreading the play well in the more attacking areas and looking to make things happen. He is less comfortable when receiving the ball facing his own goal though and was more shaky when picking the ball up from the defence, with the opposition half being where he does his best work. Even so, for the first half he generally kept things simple and sensible when in possession in deeper areas. Defensively, he energetically and aggressively led the midfield’s pressing of the opposition. He is forming a good partnership with Ledley, who’s left-footedness provides a nice balance to the team. Ledley is another who provides something different when the team needs it, often by breaking forward out of midfield. Mostly though, he plays a slightly more defensive role than Brown.

Brown’s form dipped a little in the second half and so did Celtic’s, with him perhaps suffering slightly from the movement of Ledley out of midfield to left-back. Indeed, it seems that in this system, when Brown plays well so do the whole side and when he doesn’t, they don’t. Overall though, he bossed the midfield, performing as a true ‘midfield general’. Let’s hope he keeps it up.

Stokes also shines

Anthony Stokes was another stand-out performer. His movement when dropping deep caused problems for the Hibs defence, pulling players out of position and creating space for runners from deep, in much the same way that Samaras sometimes does, and Fortune used to. In a number of ways Stokes is similar to the previous holder of the number 10 shirt, as he drifts wide a lot to find space, most often to the right. However, Stokes plays the game at a quicker pace and his movement is more unpredictable, popping up in a variety of positions on the field. Fortune also would often drift wide then rely on his physical strength to deal with markers whereas Stokes prefers to constantly look for space and evade them. This is well-suited to the high tempo passing game that Neil Lennon is trying to bring to the side. You could say that so far, Stokes has filled the role that Fortune was expected to do when he first signed, but with extra goal-threat and more flair as well as more awareness of his team-mates runs. Against Hibs, Stokes performed as a true ‘number 10’ or ‘trequartista’ and his flicks and tricks were a joy to see at times.

Celtic often looked to get the ball to Stokes in or on the edge of the attacking third, with numerous runners from deep bursting ahead or around him. These moves frequently involved Stokes looking for Hooper’s clever runs. Hooper is an intelligent player but in this game didn’t display the quality to match his movement and looked a little slower than he did in pre-season. This can probably be put down to a lack of match sharpness. When he is fully fit it will be interesting to see how his partnership with Stokes progresses, as it is already showing good promise.

Maloney wasted on the left of a midfield four?

Maloney had his worst game of the season so far. It looks as though he is finally settling on a position and that’s as a central attacking midfielder. On the left he is often further from goal and so has less chance to be an influence in the attacking third. He frequently tried to play a dangerous pass straight after receiving the ball on the left-hand side but this was always from difficult positions. He is much more influential when on the left of a front-three and even more so when used in the centre between the midfield and front-line, and neither of these are possible with this formation. Perhaps someone like Forrest is more suited to this role in a 4-4-2. It is nice to have the option of different playing systems but the manager now has a decision to make between the more continental style 4-2-3-1-type formations or the 4-4-2 and make one of them first choice. To be fair to Maloney, Mulgrew’s selection at left-back didn’t help as the latter is very immobile, not very quick and rarely ventures up the wing and so didn’t create any space for the former. Maloney also quite often received the ball whilst double-marked. It was clear that Izaguirre was missed as Celtic had very little width on the left. Ledley was moved there possibly in attempt to solve the problem but despite performing adequately there he is also unable to provide the tireless, pacey running down the flank of Izaguirre. The Honduran’s return will be welcome as, in this system, his absence has had an affect on a number of players and therefore the side as a whole.

Celtic also struggled for width on the right at times, though this wasn’t to same the extent as on the left. Cha Du-Ri had most responsibility for creating width here but at times his technique let him down, with him needing quite a bit of space to comfortably control the ball and to provide decent crosses. Considering he was a free transfer, Cha Du-Ri is a good bit of business and he should do a good job for us this season but long-term it might be wise to look for a better alternative. Juarez also has a tendency to drift in-field, putting more pressure on Cha Du-Ri but on the positive side this created an interesting swapping of positions with Stokes. As Stokes drifted wide to the right, Juarez would often shift forward into his vacated space which at times created confusion in the Hibs defence.

Tactical versatility

When Celtic came out for the second half they switched to a 4-3-3. Stokes moved out to the right with Juarez forming a midfield three with Brown and Ki (who had replaced Mulgrew, so Ledley could switch to left-back). The three formed a triangle with Ki slightly deeper than the other two. The team formed a defensive block not unlike the one seen against ICT in the CIS Cup, with the difference being that they would aggressively press the ball around the half-way line rather than the edge of the defensive third. This tactical change and aggressive defence took Hibs by surprise and gave Celtic good field position to exert attacking pressure and eventually resulted in a corner from which Loovens scored. As the two sides trotted back to line up for the restart, Neil Lennon gave a hand signal and mouthed the words “four-four-two”, and this switch back again confused Hibs. Unfortunately, individual errors and general sloppiness are still a problem for Celtic and a slack pass from the otherwise excellent Scott Brown gave Hibs the ball in a dangerous position. Majstorovic, showing signs of complacency, had also carelessly left his position leaving the defence more exposed and Derek Riordan exploited this brilliantly. His finish was an example of what made Gordon Strachan sign him for Celtic four years ago.

This switching of formations could become quite an asset if the players get more comfortable with it as it can catch the opposition by surprise. At the moment, they probably haven’t gelled enough to really make this a potent weapon but it is encouraging to see the manager try to bring this to the side. As much as the changes caught Hibs out, the switch back to 4-4-2 helped them as Celtic went back to lacking enough width. Hibs had also gotten to grips with the 4-4-2 by the end of the first half  but struggled with the 4-3-3 and so the switch back to the former, after a brief period of confusion, was more easy to deal with for them.

As stated earlier, Lennon now has a choice to make over what will be the primary formation and lineup. The 4-4-2 puts a lot of emphasis on the two full-backs to provide width and when this works it is a real danger to the opposition. The attack and midfield are often quite narrow which in turn, narrows the opposition defence. Celtic frequently had four players in the attacking third moving into a narrow area, often in a diamond or rhombus shape and this would suck in the Hibs defence and create space wide for the full-backs or wingers to exploit, depending on how the build-up had been generated and on switching of positions. Sadly, this wasn’t made use of enough against Hibs, for reasons outlined earlier, but the right player selection should make this hard for opposition to deal with.

Celtic's 'rhombus of attack'. Notice also the space created out wide, this time for Juarez (circled)

The 4-4-2 also allows for an unpredictable strike partnership, when Hooper and Stokes are selected. On the negative side, when the full-backs are unable to provide sufficient width there is more reliance on individuals to do something unexpected. There is also a lot being demanded from the two central midfielders, with them both having to perform all-round duties and needing to be involved in both attack and defence and if either under-perform then this can really affect the team. The lack of a holding player in particular can mean that Brown is coming back to deeper areas too often. The 4-3-3 meant that he was facing up-field both when defending and attacking and he is more comfortable when this happens.

The quality of opposition is giving room for experimentation for the boss but with the first Rangers game edging nearer, one hopes he will have settled on his first XI and playing system soon.

Lineups

CELTIC

Forster;

Cha, Loovens, Majstorovic, Mulgrew (Ki 46);

Juarez, Ledley, Brown, Maloney;

Hooper (Samaras 70), Stokes

Subs not used: Zaluska, Rogne, Towell, Kayal, Murphy

HIBERNIAN

Brown;

Hart (Galbraith 80), Hanlon, Dickoh, Grounds;

De Graaf (Stephens 80), Wotherspoon, McBride, Miller, Rankin (Trakys 86);

Riordan

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Tomdickfoolery permalink
    September 27, 2010 3:40 pm

    Once again, you have captured the essence of the game and gave credit where credit is due. I wish some of the Brown haters around me would check your analysis, keep up the good work.

    • September 27, 2010 4:37 pm

      Thanks very much, I have been critical of Brown in the past but he really did play very well in this match. Even without the goal, he would have been man of the match. I just hope that there is more to come.

  2. September 27, 2010 9:56 pm

    You said at the start of the second half that Ledley formed a triangle in midfield with Brown and Juarez. Didn’t Ledley slot straight into left back after the break due to the withdrawal of Mulgrew.

    I’m still mystified by Brown as he was sloppy on quite a few occasions especially in the build up to the Hibs goal, Stokes also could have cost us a goal and like Wednesday against ICT he seems to put us in danger with slack passing whilst deep in his own half.

    Probably our poorest home game this season but great to get three points and hopefully more understanding for the manager and the players of the options available to them.

    • September 28, 2010 1:14 am

      My mistake, I meant Ki rather than Ledley and I’ll amend it.

      Brown was sloppy at times and perhaps I should have included a little more of this but overall he was the top performer. Stokes pass-back to Forster was very poor and again, perhaps this should have been included but it was an unusual situation and his overall performance was good. Most times that he lost possession was deep in the Hibs half.

      Agree that it was our worst home game this season and in the past might have ended in a draw or defeat.

  3. Paks permalink
    September 28, 2010 1:20 am

    This was one of the poorest home displays since Neil took over the reins. A great goal by Scott Brown and for a second there I thought we were going to continue our fine form from mid-week. However that wasn’t to be the case.
    The whole team including Scott were poor after that great start, terrible first touch and pass seemed to be the order of the day. Antony Stokes looked as if he was trying too hard and wanting to prove a point to his former team, not one of his better days but I have high hopes for him.
    Was Shaun affected by the presence of the Scotland manager or the fact that he played wide left? A combination of both I suspect. He plays much better in the middle of the field supporting the stiker/s.
    I am still not convinced with Scott as he is not consistent over ninety minutes, his passing at times is woeful and he gets caught in possession far too much. Great goal though. I do not think he is our best central midfielder, nor in any of my preferred central pairings. Juarez/Ledley, Kayal/Ledley or even Juarez/Kayal would all give a better balance to the team.
    Your comments on tactical versatility are interesting. I thought that after we scored our second goal we seemed to relax and defend a little deeper. We didn’t close down a well as we had been doing and allowed Hibs to gain confidence and get back into the game. Do that against a better team and we will end up losing.
    All that apart, I enjoyed the win and it was good to get the three points when you are not playing well. Do they not say that is the mark of Champions? Onwards and upwards Celtic.
    Hail, Hail.
    Paks.

    • September 28, 2010 11:19 am

      have to admit i’m still not convinced by scott brown either because he hasn’t ever shown consistency in the past and agree that after all his time at celtic the other midfield pairings look better. but, the manager rates him and i hope this is the start of brown pushing on to show some consistent good form.

      there’s an interesting article here – http://defensiveminded.wordpress.com/2010/09/20/the-blue-wall-of-rangers/ – about rangers against man utd. i think it’s quite relevant considering we’re moving towards a 4-4-2 that has similarities to man utd.

      • Paks permalink
        September 28, 2010 1:37 pm

        I hope that Scott proves all his detractors wrong, I sincerely do as Hughie Green would say.

        A good article showing the fallibility of a rigid formation, I was also surprised that United had no plan B. It came as a bit of a shock when we started using 4-4-2 again after the fluid displays of our 4-2-3-1 system. I can only assume that it is because of the players available.

        Fast and fluid movement on and off the ball is the way to go and I suppose that can be achieved regardless of the formation. 4-2-3-1 gives so many more options and as an ex defender I know there is nothing worse than attacking midfielders running at you with the ball or dragging you out of position. Playing against a rigid system was a defenders dream, always knowing where your opponent was likely to be made it all so much easier.

        I can only assume that Neil does not think we have the players for such a formation or maybe does not think it suitable for the SPL. I hope we have a plan B for the 24th?

        Hail,Hail.
        Paks

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