Celtic winger James Forrest nears return to very different side

By Euan Davidson

February 4, 2021

Celtic winger James Forrest returning from injury is a good thing.

According to Neil Lennon, “the physios are confident” [Scottish Sun] about Forrest coming back into a side which has struggled in his absence. Back in November, we argued that the winger’s production, in terms of goals and assists, was a massive asset.

Could Celtic have been better with Forrest in the team? Possibly, yes. His numbers alone indicate what he brings to the side. In the 19-20 season, Forrest had 27 goal involvements in 28 league games [Transfermarkt], which is frankly incredible.

However, he returns to a Celtic team that has changed a great deal in his absence. Neil Lennon has got the best out his players by using a 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond. Ironically, the narrower formation has led to more chance creation from wide positions.

Jonjoe Kenny enjoyed a decent debut against Kilmarnock on Tuesday night. With Turnbull cutting inside, the Everton loanee was a major creative force on the right flank. Throughout the season, Frimpong and Ajer have provided attacking impetus as wing-backs.

Where does James Forrest fit in this? Not easily. Unless, that is, he can adapt tactically to the needs of the team. There’s a scenario in which Forrest fits into a frightening forward line, and Lennon may be forced to explore it.

James Forrest in action for Celtic back in September / (Photo by Paul Campbell/Getty Images)

Celtic winger James Forrest; a threat through the middle?

As an inside-forward or an inverted winger, James Forrest might enjoy some time starting from a more central position. He’s still pacy, yes, but his eye for a pass and under-appreciated shooting abilities are his main attribute these days.

Therefore, it might make sense to try him out as a number 10, on the tip of the diamond. That way, he can still explore wide positions, and exploit space left to press our right-back, presumably Jonjoe Kenny. With a focus on assists and shooting opportunities, Forrest could thrive.

Or, Turnbull could be played as an out-and-out number 10, with Forrest starting on the right of the diamond. This seems like the more natural fit, here. The winger will have to rein in his instinct to hug the touchline, but he would still have license to explore interchanges with the right-back, while contributing to attacking scenarios.

There is one weakness here, though. Turnbull is better working the box-to-box role than Forrest is, because Forrest has never really had to play it. There have been times where he’s been used in a 3-5-2, but his defensive work hasn’t particularly impressed in that role.

It might mean that Turnbull’s effectiveness is blunted. Also, Ryan Christie would have to drop out to accommodate Forrest – a prospect that won’t excite the former Inverness man.

In any case, Forrest returns to a very different Celtic from the one he last played for. If he’s willing to adapt, then we might see incredible benefits. If not, Lennon either has to go back to a formation with two wide attackers, or leave Forrest out entirely.

It’s a headache upon headaches for Celtic boss Neil Lennon.

Earlier today: What’s going on with Celtic’s youth prospects?