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Celtic 1-3 Rangers Part One: First Half

October 26, 2010

Celtic and Rangers fought a hectic derby on Sunday which was won by two poor goals – from Celtic’s point of view – and sealed by a peculiar decision from the referee. Despite the match official having such an impact on the game’s outcome, the real failure was Celtic’s familiar inability to perform on the biggest stage. After a promising performance last week, Celtic’s self destructive nature returned. The far more settled Rangers side played to their strengths and displayed a greater organisation and tactical awareness which, more than anything else, was what won the game. have reported the pattern of the match well – ‘Celtic 1-3 Rangers: second half turnaround’ – in particular the midfield battle which had a large say on the final outcome. In a number of periods throughout the game, Rangers were able to either numerically outnumber or match up in the middle of the park and aside from the spell in the first half leading up to the opening goal, Celtic were unable to counter this.

Instead of repeating what was seen in the zonalmarking article, we shall go for a slightly different format for this report, using more pictures than usual.

Phase 1 – first 10 minutes

Celtic started the game with the same lineup that played so well against Dundee Utd, a 4-4-2 with the intention of frequently changing shape in attack. Right from the kick off one could see the example of the asymmetric shape that was seen a number of times in the Dundee Utd game:

Rangers reverted to a 4-5-1 formation, something rarely seen as Smith has mostly rotated between 4-4-2 for domestic games and 5-4-1 for Europe. In addition, one could see that attempts to win free kicks in dangerous areas were part of their game plan, with Naismith taking a blatant dive in the penalty box in the first seven minutes. Rangers’ lineup meant a 3 vs. 2 match up in the middle of the park. This platform enabled them to push Edu and Davis right up against Ki and Ledley, with Lafferty and Naismith staying goalside of Stokes and Maloney and staying close to the Celtic fullbacks. They would either man-mark Wilson and Izaguirre or cut off the passing angles to Stokes and Maloney so Celtic found it quite difficult to get out:

Celtic found it difficult to get midfield support to the forwards as all four often had to come very deep to receive the ball, as the above picture also demonstrates. This had knock-on effect in that Celtic were largely unable to work the ball to their full-backs in advanced positions. Rangers were able to get the ball into dangerous areas, not by clever passing and movement but by pressurising Celtic into losing the ball in around the defensive third.

Celtic started to counter the mis-match in midfield through Maloney and Stokes playing very narrow and one of the forwards shifting backwards. The picture below shows this with the midfield four shown in green and Hooper (yellow) the forward who on this occasion shifts back. The Rangers central three are marked with blue:

Lennon received criticism for his midfield selection but this is how a side counters a numerical disadvantage and Celtic started to do this well after an initial period of Rangers dominance. It would have been interesting to see how Celtic’s fluid 4-4-2 would have adapted to the situation and whether it could have continued the with the flexibility that has allowed it to get the better of various systems this season. Maloney’s injury put an end to that however.

Phase 2 – Maloney off after 10 minutes

Shaun Maloney’s injury meant a reshape for Celtic that now created a 3 vs. 3 in the midfield, therefore the constant shifting was no longer as necessary. Rangers now found it was they who couldn’t get out, particularly as the technically poor McCulloch – who was selected, as Charlie Nicholas pointed out, purely to perform a “physical role” (i.e. to kick people) – was the player tasked with playing the ball forward from deep areas. The picture below shows Rangers stuck in their own half by Celtic’s new shape:

Juarez’s energetic running helped to stretch Rangers’ midfield and create space for Ki to start to dictate the tempo of the game.

Juarez would either push right forward, taking one of the opposition midfield with him:

Juarez stretches Rangers' midfield, opening up more space in centre

Or, he would stay closer to Ledley and Ki which again would drag a Rangers midfielder with him, usually McCulloch. Rangers had clearly planned to have McCulloch deal with Celtic’s players who like to play between the lines but he was at times now being pulled out of this area by Juarez’s movement. In turn, this opened more room between the lines in which to operate:

McCulloch is occupied by Juarez (white circle), opening up space between the lines (yellow) for Hooper

The biggest effect however was the amount of room Ki now had to dictate the tempo:

Examples of the greater space for Ki (green dot)

Celtic having a front-three meant they were now well set up for counter attacks on the few occasions that Rangers were able to get men forward. One such counter resulted in a 3 vs. 3 situation in the Rangers defensive third, with Celtic’s three being far quicker than the Rangers three. This was an excellent opportunity to create a chance but it was cynically halted by a professional foul from Lee McCulloch. The player went unpunished when a second yellow card – his other being for a reckless tackle early on – was fully deserved.

Celtic went onto dominate the game, particularly the remaining ten minutes of the half where a series of corners resulted in the opening goal. Hooper showed good awareness to peel away from level with the goalkeeper into the space at the back post controlling the ball instantly and tucking it away. It was another example of his goal-poaching qualities and it really looks as though he will be an important player for Celtic this season.

So, an initially tricky opening half was dominated by Celtic with the biggest shame being the inability to make more of the pressure that Rangers were under. Samaras and Stokes were quite guilty of wastefulness in the attacking third, particularly the big Greek though in defence he tracked Whittaker very well. The other negative was the injury to Shaun Maloney which may have helped tactically but his influence in attack was missed, something that became more apparent in the second half. The success of the 4-2-3-1 shape that Celtic switched to after his injury showed that this might have been a better ploy from the start, with Maloney the one in ‘the hole’. His movement and passing ability is better than Juarez’s and so he would have been likely to cause even more problems for McCulloch than the Mexican.

Stay tuned for part two…

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Paks permalink
    October 26, 2010 3:59 pm

    I thought that we started well but struggled when Shaun was injured, by the end of the half we had the measure of them and I fully expected a win. I look forward to part two, it will be painful for you to analyse.

    • October 26, 2010 4:38 pm

      I too thought we started well, aside from the first few minutes in which whittaker hit the post. and it was pleasing to see the 4-4-2 gradually adapt to rangers tactics. maloney’s injury was a real blow to that. his creativity and final ball were missed too.


  1. Celtic 1-3 Rangers Part Two: Second Half « Tictical Analysis

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