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St. Johnstone 0-3 Celtic: solid performance; Izaguirre stars

November 3, 2010

Another three goals from Celtic against the same side they knocked out of the CIS Cup just a few days earlier, but this time with the added bonus of a clean-sheet and a far more comfortable end to the game than we witnessed the first time around. This was thanks to a more well balanced lineup – in terms of between attack and defence – and a big reduction in the number of individual errors. One also suspects that, after an energetic and spirited display in the cup, St. Johnstone were feeling the physical effects of their midweek exertions.

Neil Lennon seems to have become unshakable in his preference for a 4-4-2 formation (of sorts) and is now trying to find the right balance and player selection to maximise its potential. As we have covered a number of times before, it isn’t really a 4-4-2 at all when attacking, with an increasing amount of variation in the team’s shape when in possession of the ball. This is helped by the selection of a number of players who are slightly unorthodox for each of their positions, often being like hybrids of a couple of types of players. To give an example, Izaguirre – a stand-out performer in this game – may be a left-back and has all the defensive qualities of one, but he also has the attacking capabilities of a winger. As the players have become more used to each other, this has created a growing fluidity amongst those given the most attacking responsibility and this has made it difficult – and rather pointless – to put a traditional notation on the team’s formation when attacking.

The biggest attacking responsibility in this game was understandably given to the two forwards, Samaras and Stokes and also the left-midfielder, Niall McGinn – starting on the opposite side to previous game – who could be frequently seen in close support of the pair. Generally, Celtic have given at least four players this much attacking freedom – though in some games it has been even more – and the final player to complete the quartet in this game was left-wingback, Emilio Izaguirre. The Honduran has become a key component within Celtic’s playing system this season, particularly as he is the only left-sided player consistently capable of providing width but also because he is just such a well-rounded player. His performance on Saturday was yet more evidence of such claims. Lennon clearly shares this belief, having the confidence to allow him to patrol most of the left flank almost single-handedly at times. Think Celtic’s own left-sided version of Spain’s Sergio Ramos – not including quality or the standard of the two teams of course – and you kind of get the idea.

Emilio Izaguirre has been a revelation since signing

Defensively, he was very solid with the opposition right-winger, Jennison Myrie-Williams – moved to the other flank later in the game – in ‘his pocket’. As good wing-backs should be these days, he is very comfortable on the ball and displayed this a number of times when bringing the ball out of defence, always looking to play the ball out to a team mate. Further evidence of both his attacking role within the team and quality on the ball was shown by Celtic’s second goal where he found himself in a centre-forward’s position and took three excellent, close touches before coolly slotting it past the ‘keeper.

Ahead of him, Izaguirre benefits from having a left-midfielder that likes to cut inside or drift infield, as this opens up space on the flank for him to burst into. Conversely, these forward runs up the wing can also help to create space that extra bit of space for the midfielder. This left hand side of the Celtic attack can be even more potent when there is a player ahead of him who has a good awareness of space and those around them – something Izaguirre has himself – and Shaun Maloney shown this when selected there, the pair forging a good partnership together. At times, Maloney has stayed right out onto the touchline and Izaguirre has shown the presence of mind to take advantage of the space inside, something seen also for Honduras in the World Cup. On Saturday, Niall McGinn made for a good deputy to Shaun Maloney, who withdrew from the lineup last-minute. The Northern Irish restaurant owner and his left-back were heavily involved in a number of attacks, with the pair popping up in a variety of positions either inside or outside of each other throughout the game. This was a noticeable change from the CIS Cup game, where the left-midfielder was Giorgios Samaras, who didn’t show as much awareness of where he ans his team mate were in relation to each other.

Below are some (crude) examples of how Izaguirre and McGinn’s relationship worked:

Common situations seen when McGinn came infield...

...and when he stayed wide

The first noticeable counter-balance to Celtic’s very attacking left-hand side is the role of Joe Ledley. The Welshman doesn’t have an exclusively defensive role, as his occasional bursts forward have shown, but he is in the side more as part of the foundations on which Celtic’s attacks are built. This is through providing cover for the more attacking-minded players’ forward movements  – his ability to fill in at left-back being particularly useful with Izaguirre’s – and through short, simple passing, though again he isn’t adverse to a more attacking one. This is true of both of the central midfielders, with Ledley and Ki generally keeping things ticking over, the Korean having slightly more licence to roam and get on the ball to spray it about or join the attacks. The pair do switch roles at times and you’ll usually see one hold his position if the other one isn’t.

Celtic’s right-hand side in this game was quite a contrast, with a relatively more defensive look to it. The defence has looked more vulnerable on this side of the field and so the first point to note was the selection of Thomas Rogne, in place of the out of form Glenn Loovens. The young Norwegian is more composed on the ball and also looks the quickest of all the central defenders currently on Celtic’s books, which complimented Majstorovic’s style quite well. Majstorovic is more of a ‘stopper’ type of defender and so there is a nice balance brought to the defence by having a faster player able of covering or sweeping behind and who can play the ball out. The next point, and this is quite interesting in relation to Izaguirre’s role on the left, was the selection of Mark Wilson at right-back with Cha Du-Ri – another right-back – ahead of him at right-midfield, which brought further stability to that side. Cha performed a role that many would refer to as a ‘defensive winger’, a player whose work-rate and defensive awareness can be used to supplement their full-back or to pin back opposition wide players. He has looked shaky in defence at times, positionally and aerially but on the wing shows a better standard of this than you’d expect from most wingers. Unlike McGinn on the left, Cha stayed wide which had some knock-on effects to the setup of the rest of the team, the first being that it would drag the opposition out to him. This can help to create gaps inside for others to take advantage of insde and/or the opposite side of the field for the likes of Izaguirre. Staying wide also meant that he was usually in the area that his full-back might want to shift forward into, but this was no bad thing as we know Mark Wilson doesn’t such explosive running or attacking quality. Instead, Wilson largely stayed behind the ball when Celtic attacked, in a supportive role, covering when Cha would attack the wing or supplement the deeper midfield area. He looked very comfortable in this role.

Yet more crude diagrams:

Commonly seen effects of Cha staying wide

The overall effect of this team selection was a more balanced looking side, which was rarely troubled by St. Johnstone in anything like the way they managed to in the CIS Cup. His inclusion may have only been thanks to the last minute withdrawal of Maloney to a stomach bug, but Cha’s performance is surely food for thought for the manager. Had Maloney been fit, he would have likely played on the left with McGinn on the opposite side, which may have brought a similar look to the side – though with greater creativity in Maloney – but it’s difficult to say whether there would have been the same amount of stability on Celtic’s right. In the CIS Cup, McGinn played there and often left his right-back and nearest midfielder more exposed, contributing to the St. Johnstone fight-back. Either way, we have again learnt a little more about this emerging Celtic side.

As the match wore on, with Celtic very comfortable, Izaguirre played more conservatively. This was probably due to McGinn tiring – it was only his second game of the season – and to help solidify the team and see out the game. It may not have been one of the best performances of the season so far, but defensively it was one of the most comfortable we have seen for quite some time, thanks in no small part to the balance of the side.




Maybury, Mackay, Duberry, Grainger;

Haber, Millar, Myrie-Williams (Rutkiewicz 74), Craig;

Milne (Parkin 56), MacDonald (Samuel 56)

Subs not used: Enckelman, Caddis, Jackson, May



Wilson, Rogne, Majstorovic, Izaguirre;

Cha, Ledley, Ki, McGinn;

Samaras Stokes

Subs not used: Zaluska, Hooiveld, Mulgrew, Juarez, Towell, Crosas, McCourt

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Bigdogs permalink
    November 4, 2010 12:07 am

    Great analysis once again!


  1. St. Mirren 0-1 Celtic: Hooper breaks St. Mirren resistance « Tictical Analysis

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