Celtic boss Neil Lennon is an unenviable position just now, in many ways.
His job is still insecure, with the board planning to review the situation “in the new year” (BBC). He’s suddenly winning matches as Celtic boss, but fans expect that kind of thing.
In fact, we now know what happens when the Bhoys aren’t able to pick up victories.
As much as Lennon is a massive Celtic fan, and arguably an icon at the club through 20 years of service, he’s up against it. His latest headache? Deciding whether or not to make big changes for the most vital game of the season so far.
Ibrox calling, Celtic on form
Last night, I talked about the Celtic supporters and their growing optimism ahead of the Derby. It’s well-placed; Celtic are winning games comfortably and keeping clean sheets on a consistent basis.
Dundee United provided, on paper, a much sterner test. Celtic dealt with them comfortably.
From 2 wins in 12 to a run of solid victories, Neil Lennon has launched a mini-revival at Celtic Park. The key to that? Making big calls in the middle of the park.
Yes, it’s the midfield which has turned everything around for Lennon. Adopting something of a diamond shape in the middle of the park, the combination of Ismaila Soro, Callum McGregor, David Turnbull and Ryan Christie are endlessly productive.
Scott Brown, our talismanic captain, has been used sparingly. His absence doesn’t make us stronger as such, it’s just that the players we have in there currently are more tactically adaptable.
For that reason, Lennon mustn’t change a thing.
Ball-winning, creativity and goals
One decision should be easy for Neil Lennon: keep David Turnbull in the team. Since his start against Lille, Turnbull has revitalised the attacking side of Celtic’s game. He has scored goals for fun, whether it’s a timely tap-in or a screamer from outside the box.
His range of passing, technique and shooting ability are a real asset to Celtic. He shares much in common with Ryan Christie, but perhaps makes more more intelligent runs between the opposition midfield and defence. The two of them together have been devastating.
It’s little coincidence that when both of them have started, Celtic have created more opportunities. There were 18 from open play against Hamilton. 21 against Ross County. An incredible 26 overall against Kilmarnock (all stats via WhoScored?).
Compare that to the dismal 5 against Rangers earlier this season. To say any of them were actual clear-cut chances would be incredibly kind.
Behind Turnbull and Christie, McGregor has shone with the backing of Ismaila Soro. We’ve raved about Soro for weeks, and maybe it’s over the top. However, his impact since the Lille game has been absolutely incredible.
Combining fantastic tackling with successful passing, Soro has done everything Lennon would’ve wanted and then some. His presence has completely revitalised both defence and attack for Celtic, and suddenly the team looks reliant on the Ivorian.
Nobody outside of Lennoxtown could’ve predicted Soro’s immense impact. Yet, here we are. He has to play on Saturday.
Lennon’s biggest Celtic call is very familiar
It sounds incredibly unfair to our club captain, but at this stage even he would recognise that dropping Soro would be criminal. Broony is and has been a magnificent servant to Celtic Football Club. Still, Lenny mustn’t change a thing in the midfield.
Yes, it’s the same debate we had before the Hearts game. Broony played well in the first half, but Celtic surrendered a 2-0 lead in the second.
That isn’t all down to Brown, but when Lennon has stuck to his guns and played the midfield diamond with Soro, we haven’t conceded a domestic goal.
If you’re a Celtic fan, the decision seems easy: stick with what works. However, if it was an easy job, any of us could do it.
It’s heart v. head time for Lenny. His heart will be telling him that the Rangers game requires experienced campaigners; real warriors who know what the fixture is all about. His head will be telling him not to tinker with a winning formula.
We’re praying that Lenny’s head wins that particular battle. Because it means, most likely, that that Celtic will win theirs.