Celtic must heed defensive warnings from Quadruple Treble finale

By Euan Davidson

December 22, 2020

Two days on from Sunday’s glorious Cup Final win, Celtic fans can be forgiven for still being in party mode.

A Quadruple-Treble. Scottish Football will never see the likes again.

It was an incredible match befitting the occasion, but it could and should have been so much more comfortable. Taking a 2-0 lead into half-time, the Bhoys could have had 3 or 4 before the break. That we came so close to losing that final need to be addressed.

On a personal level, I sort of hate being the person to do this, but again; we nearly lost that one. From ecstasy to agony, Celtic’s lead disappeared and we were taken to penalties by a club in the tier below us.

I am not fear-mongering, nor am I trying to wind up the Celtic fanbase here. If anything, we need to galvanise our support for this triumphant side, with 10IAR very much the focus this season. If we want to repeat the scenes of Sunday, this Celtic defence needs fixed.


Celtic defenders Jullien and Duffy / (Photo by Craig Foy/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Duffy-Jullien partnership yet to truly bear fruit

We have won the last three games, yes. We’ve also conceded 5. A clean sheet against Kilmarnock seemed like a nice boost rather than the crux of why we won. Celebrating a clean sheet at all, for a club our level, shows a dampening of expectations at Celtic this season.

All through the second half, Shane Duffy and Christopher Jullien looked confused. For a back two to be chasing the same ball under no pressure is a terrifying sign of the communication levels in the defence.

Look at this clip here (Scottish Cup/YouTube). Josh Ginnelly really should’ve taken advantage of this utter lapse in concentration. To say Celtic rode their luck in the second half is an under-statement.

It’s basic, basic stuff: shout for the ball, be confident in your role. A club at Celtic’s level shouldn’t ever see that kind of thing happening, least of all in a Cup Final. It’s shoddy and it nearly cost us dearly.


We’ve leaked goals from set pieces constantly this season / (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Celtic still struggling to defend set-pieces

At this point, I probably sound like a broken record. It’s just that Celtic still can’t defend set-pieces. If we’re going to win our 10th consecutive title, then Lennon has to improve this situation.

Hearts’ third on Sunday was textbook chaos. The posts weren’t covered sufficiently, and it’s not clear whether Lennon wanted his players to mark areas or men. Either way, Celtic continued to make hard work of defending anything coming into the box.

To be clear: Celtic’s defenders are massive. Kristoffer Ajer could legitimately play basketball. At the other end of the pitch, Jullien and Duffy are often first to the ball, but they look lost in defensive situations. It’s a massive problem for Celtic and other teams know to exploit it.

We’re going to concede free kicks and corners in matches; it’s inevitable. Unless we can regularly put 3 or 4 past teams, Celtic’s inability defending aerially is going to cost us points, and we can’t afford to lose any more matches.

Fix it, or lose out on the 10. It’s that simple.


Needless goals. / (Photo by Rob Casey/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Counter-pressing, or lack thereof

Look at 3.34 of this clip and pause it. In the lead-up to Hearts’ first goal, the positioning of our players is absolutely abysmal.

Ajer has played well as a right-back, but he’s caught on the wrong side and is unable to prevent the cross coming in; his primary objective in that position. Brown and McGregor are well off the pace tracking back, while Duffy is covering, but keeping Boyce onside.

You can see from that one frame how likely Celtic were to concede. Yes, Hearts were quick on the break, and should be given credit for their attacking impetus. Still, we’re going to face more difficult, faster teams.

Equal to the aforementioned Duffy/Jullien mix-up, Celtic look genuinely scared when out of possession. There’s a total lack of confidence and responsibility. There’s no cohesion, no tactical planning for being off the ball. Some players are chasing the opposition, others are backing off.

I’m no coach, but it seems to me that you’d want your back 3 or 4 to know their roles at all times. On Sunday, Celtic didn’t, with a Quadruple Treble at stake. Thankfully, we came through it, but only by virtue of being able to score goals.