Exclusive: Jackie McNamara on Neil Lennon changing Celtic tactics after the international break
Celtic return to match action later today against Ross County and there’ll be an expectation from supporters that Neil Lennon’s Bhoys truly kickstart their season with an impressive victory in the Highlands.
It’s fair to say the 2020/21 has not been smooth sailing so far for the nine-in-a-row winners. From the horror Champions League exit to dropped points at Kilmarnock and even postponed fixtures, there hasn’t been too much to get excited about for us fans.
However, today is very much an opportunity to start afresh and look forward on the road ahead instead of behind us at mistakes that have been made.
County are no mugs of course but having been one of the struggling sides in the Scottish Premiership last season, they are also a team we should be expecting to see off comfortably.
Much of the talk heading into the fixture is what kind of tactics that Lennon will deploy and whether he will change things up from the 4-2-3-1 that he has predominately used so far this season.
Last term he changed from this set-up to a fluid two-striker, three defender formation, most closely aligning to a 3-5-2 shape. It worked well, with Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths flourishing in attack prior to the pandemic curtailing the top-flight.
Now, with the signings of Shane Duffy and Albian Ajeti, the manager has the personnel to once again unleash a more dynamic, attacking team.
Has he been cooking up something special during the international break?
We asked Celtic legend and 67 Hail Hail pundit Jackie McNamara whether or not he’s expecting his former teammate’s side to look different in the weeks ahead.
He said: “Yeah, I think he will definitely freshen things up. It’ll be interesting to see if he goes with the three at the back. I think he’ll definitely be changing personnel.
“In certain games, I don’t see any reason why he couldn’t play 4-4-2 at home as well.
“Everyone’s saying 3-5-2 but we’ve got most of the ball anyway, the opposition is camped in, why three centre-halves? Systems and formations, they are starting points. It’s about playing to your strengths.
“I don’t think he would do that, I think he would go with three at the back, like Martin O’Neill did, and have an extra man in the middle of the field.
“Neil likes to score goals and maybe he’s been waiting for that extra bit of security in Shane Duffy to go to that three and change it back like he did in January.”
Jackie goes into more depth about the positives and negatives of certain formations in the interview on our YouTube channel so be sure to check that out if you want a closer look at the options available to Lennon.
One of the big problems when switching to a 3-5-2 is what to do with Mohamed Elyounoussi – a player deployed on the left-wing who is not as suited to the dual shift of a hybrid wing-back compared to James Forrest or Jeremie Frimpong on the right flank.
Is he best deployed through the middle as a ‘number 10’ or is there a better option for Lennon away from Ryan Christie and Tom Rogic?
McNamara said: “I think Elyounoussi could play it but I do like him running on to the ball though, he’s got pace, I like to see him run in behind.
“That role you’re talking about, that’s the one everyone wants to play, the luxury role. Like Lubo Moravcik or Eyal Berkovic getting into pockets. They have to be exceptional to build your team around that.
“Ntcham, Christie or Turnbull could all get opportunities. I actually like McGregor in that forward role as well. He can see that pass, he can drive forward and has the ability to play there and I actually like him further forward in the team.”
Whatever team Lennon goes with today and beyond, you can’t deny he has plenty of options.
With players returning to fitness and quality stars signed this summer, there’s really an embarrassment of riches at the moment in most positions.
It all builds anticipation for his team announcement later today as fans look for fresh ideas and more flexibility from the manager.