Celtic manager Neil Lennon should have his eyes on Hearts vs St Johnstone

By David Walton

December 11, 2019

As Celtic get set for a big game against Hibernian on Sunday, Neil Lennon must also have a look at the Daniel Stendel debut at Tynecastle.

The new Hearts boss will take to the dugout on Saturday to face Tommy Wright’s woeful St Johnstone outfit. It’s a glorious chance for the Gorgie side to get three vital home points ahead of their game against Celtic next Wednesday.

Indeed, after Celtic take on Jack Ross’ Hibs, Stendel’s Hearts will be next in line. As things stand, we know absolutely nothing about how the Jambos could set up when the Champions come calling.

Daniel Stendel is set to make his Hearts debut this weekend (Lewis Storey/Getty Images)

Stendel has had a real roller-coaster of a career in management so far. It started with a temporary spell as Hannover manager where he failed to avoid relegation from the Bundesliga. He then got the team up to fourth in the second-division before being sacked in March 2017. Hannover would go on to get promoted in that same season, showing that he managed to lay the foundations for success.

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His next role would indeed be Barnsley. Interestingly, when appointed, ex-Barnsley CEO Gauthier Ganaye stated the following on the LMA website:

“We’ve identified that the counter-press has been used by the most successful teams in the world and Daniel is one of the best coaches at doing that.”

Stendel a master of the counter-press?

This is something he could have Hearts doing fairly quickly if he can drill it into them. Whilst it will take time for Stendel to build his squad, Celtic must be wary of Hearts being in their faces and not looking to back off the champions.

His Barnsley team were adventurous. They ended his debut season in England with automatic promotion from League One and into the Championship. Barnsley also ended the season with the third-highest goal tally in the division.

Sendel’s high-press philosophy could benefit Hearts (George Wood/Getty Images)

His fluidity was also interesting with the English side too. Stendel doesn’t seem to have one formation that he goes to. It’s very much horses for courses. 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, 4-4-1-1 – these were just some of the approaches he used in different matches.

In the end he was sacked back in October after a run of 10 games without a win however.

Most pertinently, against Luton Town, who were the best team in League One, Stendel adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation. This is a set-up Hearts know well when they face us. But unlike much of the route one football that Craig Levein was so known for, we shouldn’t expect constant punts up to Uche Ikpeazu next Wednesday.

Stendel spoke to Sky Sports last year about the style of football he likes his teams to play. Perhaps the following is a little taster of what we can expect next Wednesday:

“We want to press very high and be very active”

“We want to press very high and be very active. When we lose the ball, we need to win it again with the counter-press. When we win the ball, we want to play very quickly to create chances. Most of the games, we play like this – but we need to play like this for 90 minutes. That’s the development. That’s the goal.”

Neil Lennon will be hoping to continue his 100% record over Hearts since returning to Celtic (Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

That couldn’t be any further from how Levein’s Hearts operated. It looks as though Hearts have gone with a high-energy coach to inject some life into their side. The big question mark, however, is whether Hearts actually have the players just now for this style of high-tempo football.

There’s also the question of whether this approach is a tad risky to adopt when a team like Celtic come to town so soon after his appointment.

That’s why Saturday is so key. Lennon will be able to see right away whether Hearts start pressing higher or are moving the ball quicker. If not, that bodes well for next week. If they are, Tynecastle could continue to be a tricky venue for us when we rock up in seven days.