Has Celtic manager Neil Lennon finally figured out his best XI?
Celtic beating Ross County is by no means a seismic event, in and of itself.
However, Neil Lennon has constantly tinkered with formations all season. He’s played a 4-2-3-1, a 3-5-2, a 3-4-2-1, and all possible variations you could think of.
With a settled 4 at the back, Lennon played something akin to a diamond formation, and it worked. The industrious Ismaila Soro playing in the DM role allowed Christie, McGregor and Turnbull to combine for enterprising attacking movement.
Much will be made of Griffiths and Edouard starting up front together, and we’ll get to that. However, let’s look at the whole team tonight and discuss what worked.
Celtic’s best back 4?
Jeremie Frimpong can be frustrating, there’s no doubt. When he’s on his game, though, there’s just no stopping him. Both him and Laxalt were given liberating roles to investigate space along the entirety of each flank.
Laxalt’s brilliant tackling and Frimpong’s fearless movement allowed Turnbull and McGregor to venture into pockets of space behind Edouard and Griffiths.
Meanwhile, Ajer and Jullien had their most assured game for Celtic in a long time. Between the two, only one half-chance was allowed to Ross County. They’ll face sterner tests than this, no doubt. But there’s a really good balance in this back 4, and it’s the one that Lenny should stick with.
Extra praise should be given to Kristoffer Ajer, who has clearly been watching DVDs of Virgil van Dijk. His heat map (WhoScored?) confirms what everyone saw tonight; his runs into the midfield were bold and ambitious. Other teams won’t give him quite so much space, but there’s an eery similarity between the Norwegian and the world’s most expensive defender, circa 2014.
A settled midfield, at last?
We’ll be having the same arguments about Scott Brown for Celtic’s trip to Ibrox, and it’s even possible that Charlie Nicholas will be proven right on consecutive occasions. What strange times we live in.
The point being that regardless of anything else, the objective best footballing decision Lenny can make in our upcoming games is to keep Soro in the team.
With Brown’s advancing age, his pace is no longer what it was. Therefore, he needs Callum McGregor next to him, mopping up in midfield. That holds CalMac back, and as we saw tonight and against Lille, there’s more to his game than that.
In a diamond or 1-3, Soro combined with the aforementioned McGregor, Christie and Turnbull to devastating effect. This is the midfield that has to be used going forward.
Christie and Turnbull looked a little inexperienced playing next to each other, but there were enough signs to suggest that there’s a legitimate partnership there.
If we’re going to beat Rangers, it’s this exact midfield, in this exact shape, that Lennon should utilise.
Celtic should continue with Eddy and Griff up top
I’ll be honest, I’m not as sold on Griffiths/Edouard as others. Tonight, I wasn’t proven wrongly or rightly. They were fine.
You do get the sense that there’s much more there, and there were promising signs. Edouard’s dynamic movement allows Griffiths to explore space left by defenders. The Scotland international could have had 2 or 3, and Edouard’s first touch was more hesitant than you might usually expect.
Ok, they weren’t barnstorming tonight. They stormed zero barns. There’s enough to suggest that the duo will find their rhythm, provided they play together on a regular basis.
We’d expect to see the front two play against Hamilton on Boxing Day. That’s the acid test for Ibrox. If it works, Lennon shouldn’t tinker yet again.
Celtic’s best XI this season:
Hazard, Frimpong, Ajer, Jullien, Laxalt, Soro, Christie, Turnbull, McGregor, Griffiths, Edouard