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Celtic 1-3 Rangers Part Two: Second Half

October 27, 2010

Celtic continued into the second half in the same way that they finished the first, not making any changes to their lineup. Considering the pressure that Rangers had been under in the first half, one could argue that this was a sensible decision but Smith was always going to make some kind of alteration to his side to get them back into the game. Celtic didn’t seem prepared for this and perhaps even a touch of complacency – which later turned into panic – entered their play.

The biggest change Rangers made was to be much more offensive with their pressing, applying pressure much higher up the pitch and not allowing Ki as much room to make himself available. They seemed to target the Celtic centre-backs as a weak point, in particular Glenn Loovens, whose lack of composure on the ball and passing ability was exposed.

Rangers used Lafferty, Miller and Edu as a sort of pressing trio. When Celtic looked to play the ball out from the back, Lafferty frequently closed down Loovens with his left-sided starting position often forcing the Dutchman inwards. Edu would stay close to Ki, which often cut off that particular option whilst Miller would mostly close down Majstorovic or Fraser Forster if the ball ended up being played back to him. This pressure caused Celtic to give the ball away in dangerous positions and like the first half gave Rangers possession in advanced positions, not thanks to inventiveness but by simply working out how to stop us playing. Celtic gave away a free-kick which was well delivered by Davis and eventually turned into the net by Loovens. Credit must go to Davis but questions must be asked about the Celtic defending.

Another change to Rangers’ play was not just that they applied pressure higher up the pitch but also, when Celtic did work the ball into more advanced areas, Miller shifted back to hound the Celtic midfield. In particular, he closed down Celtic’s key player, Ki:

Miller comes back to close down Ki (circled)

The second Rangers goal resulted from more good pressing that caused a series of bad mistakes in the Celtic defence. The ‘pressing trio’ each went to their man – Lafferty on Loovens, Edu cutting off supply to Ki, Miller on Majstorovic and Forster – and Celtic suicidally gave the ball away allowing Rangers to take the lead.

Initially, Celtic should have moved the ball quicker to get the ball out of their defensive third. They didn’t do this and nervously passed along the back-line and even when they could simply have made a clearance, made a mess of that too. Forster’s dreadful attempt following a back pass from Majstorovic eventually found its way to Miller, who clinically volleyed home. Both goals were very poor for Celtic to concede and it was very frustrating that Rangers didn’t have to do anything special to get them.

Rangers continued with their bending of the rules and attempts to win free-kicks in dangerous areas, or get opponents punished. This time it was perennial play-actor, Kyle Lafferty who threw himself to the ground as Loovens looked to retrieve the ball from his hands. We like to keep to tactics on this site but this really was pathetic. Rangers also continued to press Celtic in the same way and the home side didn’t know what to do to deal with this:

More Rangers pressure on Celtic's centre-backs and just off screen, on Ki

Rangers continued to find good field position before on one such occasion they were given a huge gift by the referee. A clear dive by Broadfoot was ‘rewarded’ with a penalty by the official, who didn’t even appear to be looking at the incident but felt compelled to immediately point to the spot. It was an indefensible decision that in most other leagues would have been roundly derided.

Miller tucked away the penalty well and it was now a long way back for Celtic. In an attempt to get back into the game, Lennon brought McCourt on for Stokes and switched back to 4-4-2, with Samaras moving back up front alongside Hooper. Juarez went out to the right wing, with McCourt on the left. This change didn’t really help much as Celtic’s midfield four could simply be matched up by Lafferty, Davis, Edu and Naismith, with McCulloch sitting deeper and no longer having to deal with a central attacking midfielder.

Rangers were comfortable now and simply sat deep before occasionally springing a counter attack when Celtic had more men committed forward:

Rangers sit back and close off any passing options for Ki

Rangers defend in numbers

The away side surrendered space to the flanks where Celtic’s wide players simply didn’t offer enough – something that had occurred for most of the game, not just this period. McCourt’s introduction brought nothing to the team, he does little defensively and was often too far away from the play when Celtic had possession on his side of the pitch.

Conclusion

A bad result for Celtic against a technically inferior side who scored two poor goals – from Celtic’s point of view – and were handed another by the referee. As stated earlier, it was particularly galling that Rangers didn’t have to do anything special to win the game, they were simply better organised. The old adage that you learn more in defeat than in victory is applicable here though, with a number of weaknesses exposed that can be addressed as the rebuilding process continues. Celtic’s wide players didn’t offer enough in the final third, with Samaras, Stokes, Wilson, McCourt and Juarez being guilty of wasting good situations. Maloney’s injury was a big blow on this front as was the absence of James Forrest, who has a very good final ball could have really troubled the Rangers full-backs with his running. At the back, both more pace and in particular more composure are required when in possession, something very important for the style of play that Lennon is trying to bring to the side. We have also learnt that Hooper is as reliable as he promised to be earlier on in the season and should go on to be an inspired signing. Ki was another of the better performers and looks as though he is now finding his feet in Scottish football, displaying an unexpected physical edge to his game. His partnership with Ledley looked promising in the first half – and has done in other games this season – so it will be interesting to see how it develops.

We know that Celtic have the beating of every other team in the SPL, the benchmark is now Rangers. They have a settled side and aren’t likely to get much better whereas Celtic have more youth and are still in the process of reshaping the side. At the times where Celtic had the upper hand during the game, their superior mobility, technique, passing and off-the-ball movement was quite evident. Celtic now need to push on with these strengths and add both better organisation and big game mentality to the mix. Lennon believes that next time we meet Rangers, the side will be better prepared mentally – let’s hope so.

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