Celtic 3-2 Lille: a tactical analysis of Celtic's big Euro win

By Euan Davidson

December 11, 2020

Not sure if you heard, but Celtic won a game last night (BBC). Against a Lille side who have been indomitable domestically, Neil Lennon made a number of personnel and tactical tweaks. We’re not always quick to praise the tactical decisions of the coach, but last night, he got it absolutely spot on.

Celtic were pressing with intensity and urgency, the ball was being distributed with fantastic efficiency and while defensive questions still remain, it was the tonic that Celtic fans have needed for weeks.

A “dead rubber” this wasn’t. Lille were fixated on finishing top of the group, while Lennon’s fringe players knew they had to capitalise on a rare start.

Here’s a tactical view on what went right last night, and where questions remain.

Ismaila Soro was impressive / (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Soro’s dynamism and Turnbull’s movement fit Lennon’s style

Neil Lennon is still under massive pressure. He can alleviate some of that by building on Soro and Turnbull’s performances. For once, Lenny’s tactical style was carried out effectively.

Soro did exactly what Scott Brown used to do. His tackling and ball retention were integral to Celtic’s victory. The Ivorian’s movement into advanced positions freed up McGregor and Turnbull to cause some damage in open play.

With the Ivorian roving in the middle of the park, Celtic improved their number of touches in central positions. Keeping the ball well and tackling with voracity, he’s a must for Lennon.

Our manager likes his team to launch counter attacks from the middle of the park, with overlapping wingers containing opposition full backs. From there, the midfield look to create space outside the 18-yard box. Scott Brown and Olivier Ntcham have slowed our movement to an enormous extent.

The Ivorian is a Lennon type of player. If that was Soro’s dress rehearsal for the rest of the season, he’s surely got the part.

Celtic celebrate the third goal against Lille / (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Doing more with less

This was a strange game to analyse. Despite the scoreline, Celtic were dominated in terms of passes and touches (WhoScored?).

While the Celtic of 20-21 have looked plodding and laboured in possession, that wasn’t the case against Lille. Turnbull and McGregor looked to move the ball quickly into attacking positions, with Laxalt and Henderson (who was fantastic on the night) providing width.

The key test for Lennon comes in upcoming domestic fixtures. When Celtic have more of the ball, will they continue to be as direct as they were against Lille? Or will the temptation be to thread passes together in the middle?

Sunday’s match with Kilmarnock is going to be fascinating for many reasons. Seeing what a hopefully youthful Celtic will do with more possession will be very interesting indeed.

Callum McGregor tucks away his penalty kick / (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Pressing intensity won the day

Looking at the build-up to the penalty, you get the sense that Lennon will be absolutely delighted with his team. It’s a piece of play which comes from Lille being in defensive possession.

If you watch these highlights (BT Sport/YouTube), stop the video at 1.16 and have a look at the work being done off the ball by Celtic.

By barricading the passing options for the defender, Ajer is able to easily dispossess him, with the overlapping Frimpong then available for the pass. Advancing into the box, he’s taken down rashly, and it’s a penalty for Celtic.


Weah capitalised on defensive uncertainty / (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Still questions of the defensive shape

Looking at one of Lille’s biggest opportunities, there are still huge concerns about shape that Neil Lennon’s defence are, or indeed aren’t, playing in.

If you pause the highlights at 2.00, you’ll see exactly what I mean. Here, a cross comes in and nobody in the Celtic defence has claimed it outright. That leaves Lille with a spare man on the right side of the box, and the Bhoys were almost punished again.

For Lille’s second goal, Weah pounced on further uncertainty. The coverage of the initial ball coming in was arguably good, but again there was no responsibility in terms of claiming the ball. Once again, Celtic were left scrambling for a clearance, and instead the ball fell to the ex-Celt to finish.

This is all fine, of course, if Lennon just wants us to outscore teams constantly. You can’t rely on that, however. What you can do is teach defensive shape until everyone at the back knows where they’re meant to be at all time. The coaching staff have one hell of a job doing that.