Intense pressing, confidence returns: 3 things we learned from Celtic v Motherwell

By Euan Davidson

February 6, 2021

Celtic v Motherwell was an opportunity for Neil Lennon.

Ultimately, the Lurgan-born Celtic legend is re-auditioning for his job. After the Bhoys’ depressing collapse this season, he’s making the case for staying on. Under him, he hopes, Celtic can find positives, build for the future. He’s found a tactic that (usually) works. And so on.

While Lennon’s future is an issue that needs addressed, we at least got an entertaining game today. To our manager’s credit, Celtic looked fantastic for the majority of this game. At times, the football was so good that you had to wonder where this team had been all season.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an afternoon watching Celtic unless there was a great deal of stress. After Allan Campbell’s unusual finish, the Bhoys conspired to make life as difficult as possible. It was as if all of the exertions while Celtic were in control had suddenly taken their toll.

Ultimately, though, it was 3 points for the Bhoys, against a good side.

Here’s what we made of Celtic v Motherwell, a generally good afternoon for the Bhoys.



Celtic pressed relentlessly for 90 minutes / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Celtic’s unrelenting pressing

Where’s this been?

Celtic didn’t allow Motherwell a sniff for the first hour. The pressing all the way up the pitch by Neil Lennon’s side was absolutely relentless. Motherwell’s centre-backs were forced into playing the ball wide, or losing possession, because of the Bhoys’ constant hounding.

Devante Cole and Tony Watt barely managed in any touches in the first half, with the likes of Scott Brown and Callum McGregor constantly marking their opposite man. This had the effect of pressurising Motherwell into giving the ball away, and so the Bhoys’ dominated possession, with the ball rarely coming into our own half.

Perhaps, this is what Neil Lennon’s been aiming for the whole time. When he talks about energy and fitness, maybe he’s been wanting to implement an intense Gegenpress, and hasn’t been able to. Granted, it’s unlikely, but you never know.

A lot of our problems have come from inconsistent pressing, throughout the season. There have been counter attacks against us where Ajer has pushed forward, while Duffy backs off, for example. Today, however, Celtic were consistently and constantly up in the ball-carrier’s space.

Stephen Welsh: the real deal? / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Stephen Welsh might be the real deal

When Stephen Welsh rose up to head Celtic’s opener after 2 minutes, it must’ve been a huge moment for the youngster. Welsh is only 21, and his game isn’t based around scoring goals, of course. But for an academy product to get on the scoresheet will have raised a smile for everyone in the Celtic family.

He’s already impressed from a defensive perspective [WhoScored?]. His first touch is tidy, and he’s good at both clearing the ball, or playing it out defence. Equally, he’s got an aerial presence, is confident standing in the tackle and works well with Kristoffer Ajer.

While it’s an easy dig to ask why he’s only playing now instead of Shane Duffy, Welsh is a better fit for this side. He has the energy to press further up the pitch. Crucially, though, he can do the ugly stuff well and is adept at winning the ball back in transition.

It’s far, far too early to talk about Welsh with certainty. Still, from a national perspective, it’s great to see a young Scottish centre back coming through the Celtic youth system.

French Eddy celebrates Celtic’s second / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Celtic v Motherwell: a story of confident build-up play

Where was this Celtic team all season? Against Motherwell, the Bhoys sprayed the ball around with incredible confidence and zest. A rested Brown was able to dictate the tempo in midfield, and the Hoops just tormented the Steelmen for the vast majority of the afternoon.

In truth, there should really have been more goals.

But suddenly, Celtic look full of self-belief. As satisfying a win as it was, it’s so frustrating that the Bhoys haven’t been able to play like this over a season. It’s immensely annoying that Neil Lennon didn’t figure out his best system until December.

What a different story it might’ve all been. Playing like we did for most of this game, there’s nobody who’d be able to beat Celtic in the Scottish Premiership. It’s been easy to forget just how good these players are. On the ball, they’re streets ahead.

Terrorising Motherwell players the whole game out of possession, and dominating while on the ball. This was the vision of how Lennon has wanted his players to look. God knows the whole laundry list of reasons as to why that’s not been the case.