4 Key tasks for any prospective Celtic manger

By Euan Davidson

December 1, 2020

We’re not sure if you heard, but things aren’t going amazingly at Celtic just now.

A catastrophic 4-1 mauling at the hands of Sparta Prague last Thursday was followed by a meek loss at home to Ross County in the Betfred Cup.

It was the 1st time in 36 domestic cup games that Celtic had lost. To do so without any sign of fight was enough for a number of Celtic supporters to demonstrate outside the stadium.

Rumours about a potential replacement for Neil Lennon have been rife, with Gordon Strachan, Martin O’Neill, Eddie Howe and Ralf Rangnick amongst the names touted for the top job.

Whoever takes over, whatever their pedigree, there are some key tasks to complete if they’re to turn around a disappointing season.

Christopher Jullien and Kristoffer Ajer / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Settle the defence

Last season, Christopher Jullien and Kristoffer Ajer were dominant. Ask Lazio and Rennes.

However, it’s fallen apart quite emphatically this time round. While Jullien has missed much of the season through injury, Ajer has paired with a rotating cast of centre-backs. Shane Duffy has been a huge disappointment, while Nir Bitton and Hatem Ebd Elhamed have come in to varying degrees of success.

The biggest problems are set-pieces and reacting to counter attacks.

For the former, it’s basic stuff: placement of defenders, a coherent marking strategy. Look at how we defended Sparta’s first goal.

A Europa League-level, no – a professional-level defence should be able to clear the ball out from their own box, especially after winning the first header.

This isn’t a luck thing, it’s a training thing. Our next manager has to make this an absolute priority.

In reacting to counter attacks, or even reacting to not being in possession, Sunday’s first goal was a case in point.

At 1:51 in the link above, you can see how much space Ross County have to attack Celtic’s right flank. You could comfortably build a reasonably-sized car park in there.

By the time Celtic’s centre-backs have seen what’s happened, they’ve got to choose whether to press the man on the ball or try to maintain a shape without Elhamed, who’s practically at the Emirates Arena by this point.

Scott Brown, way off the pace, has to track back but misses an interception, allowing the ball into the box. Then Jullien, who’s ball-watching, accidentally bundles Ross County’s striker over, as Ajer tries to get a foot in.

It’s laughable. You wouldn’t expect defending like this from an amateur team, let alone the Scottish Champions.

Whoever comes in (should the Celtic board relent) has to fix this, pronto.

Turnbull time? / (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Make bold decisions in the middle

Celtic are a club who revere their sacred cows and Scott Brown playing every conceivable minute of football emphasises this.

There’s zero doubt that Scott Brown has given everything to Celtic in a trophy-laden career. His accomplishments for Celtic have been incredible, and he still has something to give the club.

At 35, however, he simply can’t be the all-action midfield dominator that the management expects him to be. Not, at least, for every game Celtic play.

The next coach, if there’s a long-term strategy in mind, will be tasked with phasing Broony out. That’s no small task by any means, as our number 8 has immense influence within the dressing room.

Our captain, though, has a good footballing brain and I’m sure he’d concede that playing 90 minutes twice a week isn’t benefitting the club. Recent performances have illustrated that.

Our next coach either has to bring someone new in (John McGinn would’ve been nice) or trust that the fringe players have the potential to take Brown’s place. Fans would like to see David Turnbull get more opportunities next to the similarly undroppable Callum McGregor.

This isn’t a knock on Scott Brown, who will always be a club legend. It’s just the reality of time and the physical demands of top-level football. Eventually, Brown’s playing time will need to be reduced, and any new manager has a big decision to make on that front.

Mohamed Elyounoussi / (Photo by Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images)

Give the wingers some help

Anyone watching the Ross County game will have heard Michael Stewart talk about the lack of dynamism Celtic showed on the wings. If I’m right, I don’t recall the Bhoys ever creating an overlap on either side of the park.

You don’t win games that way.

Caught between the 3-5-2 and the 4-2-3-1, it’s impossible to detect whether our wide players know where they’re meant to be at any given moment. Certainly, any markers of effective wing play are invisible.

What worked last season was Frimpong overlapping Forrest and creating opportunities from crosses, or Forrest’s inward movement making things happen inside the box. Ditto on the left wing, where Boli Bolingoli or Greg Taylor would carry the ball wide, allowing Elyounoussi to cut in and bother defenders.

Given Celtic’s inefficiency from crosses and lack of action from 18 yards out and closer, it’s not a trick that Neil Lennon has been able to replicate. Why that is remains a mystery, but it’s an approach that’s key to Celtic’s play. It’s also just basic common sense.

We aren’t scoring goals, to put it bluntly. Fixing this would be an obvious help.

French Eddy needs help / (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Fix the attack conundrum

Odsonne Edouard does not look like a happy footballer. Ditto Albian Ajeti, whose shooting has been wayward. Leigh Griffiths has had injury problems but isn’t a starter when fit. Patryk Klimala hasn’t won Lennon over.

We have four potentially venomous options up front. Still, Celtic aren’t firing.

The new manager would need to be ruthless. If one up front is the way to go, they’ll need to create an established pecking order. If it’s two, then choosing a formation which suits the players across the pitch is vital.

Edouard will not stay at Celtic if he can’t play with the verve and freedom he needs. Against Sparta Prague, he showed exactly what he’s capable of, in what was possibly our only clinical move that game.

When he’s able to link up with an inside forward like Elyounoussi, he can drift in from the left, take on defenders and either find a pass in the box or put the ball away himself.

While comparisons are way off the mark just now, there’s a bit of Thierry Henry in Edouard’s game. It’s not to say they’re the same quality (yet), but from watching Eddy, you can tell that there’s an influence there.

We won’t have him forever, so if we’re looking at it from a cold, financial perspective: Edouard will only be a valuable asset if this team is built around him. Any new manager will have to get the best out of him while he’s there.