Celtic tactics: John Kennedy has figured out a key problem area for the Bhoys

By Euan Davidson

April 16, 2021

As Celtic fans, or even as football fans, we all love shots from distance that nestle in the top corner.

We’ve seen plenty, particularly over recent history. From Nakamura’s derby pile-driver in 2008 [SPFL] to Kieran Tierney’s wonder-strike against Killie [YouTube]. The further out, the more audacious an attempt it is, the more memorable it becomes.

But rarely do howitzers from distance actually win games. Certainly, not on a regular basis. As much as they’re individual acts of brilliance, they can also be the last refuge of the frustrated midfielder. For every David Turnbull winner against Aberdeen [Celtic FC], there are 5 or 6 per game that end up not bothering the goalkeeper at all.

For whatever reason, this season has been particularly bad in that regard. But whatever you think of John Kennedy, it’s something that’s clearly been addressed.

Compare the 2-2 draw against Livingston [WhoScored?] with the 6-0 win against the same side last week [WhoScored?]. In the first, Celtic attempted 6 shots from outside the box. In the latter, the Bhoys were far more restrained, attempting 2, one of which found the back of the net.

There have been incremental signs of improvement. For example, in the 1-1 draw with Rangers last month, Celtic still tried 5 attempts from outside the box. None of them worked, and it was a close-range header from Elyounoussi that did the business.

While, yes, two long-range efforts made the mark against Falkirk, that was Falkirk. We knew we’d find a way against them eventually. But Kennedy has removed much of the fear from this Celtic side. Long shots, arguably, aren’t a sign of confidence in attacking play.

Moving the ball around with vigour and creating chances from close-range, however, is.

Moi Elyounoussi scores against Rangers / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

John Kennedy and his Celtic tactics must stay the course this weekend

That’s an approach that can’t change. Certainly, Rangers boast an impressive defensive record this season, but they can be breached. From open play, they’ve been exploited, not least by the deplorable Slavia Prague. Running at their full-backs to create crossing opportunities should be of paramount importance to Elyounoussi and – hopefully – James Forrest.

Using width against this Rangers side can be their undoing. While Barisic and Patterson have earned plaudits, the latter (who shouldn’t be playing, by the way) has proven beatable on his right-hand side. An in-form Elyounoussi, with international experience and red-hot form, really ought to be beating him time and again.

Ultimately, it’s about calm, here. Firing shots from 30 yards out is an act of panic, 9 times out of 10. Whereas, in our last meeting with Rangers, it was a precisely executed move that drew defenders out of position and exploited space. That’s how you beat teams like this.

Waiting on a wonder-goal isn’t going to do us any favours. Thank goodness, then, that John Kennedy has radicalised our attacking play.

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