Missing Christopher Jullien has ruined Neil Lennon's plans this season

By Euan Davidson

February 19, 2021

With Christopher Jullien set to miss another 9 months, Celtic boss Neil Lennon will be aware of the folly of putting all of his eggs in one basket.

For example, he’s unlikely to have expected Fraser Forster to have rejoined Celtic after his loan. In both spells at Paradise, he’s dealt with injuries, both short and long term. During his defining hour, the Bhoys team that beat Barcelona was missing a number of first-team regulars.

John Herron was on the bench for that game. Mind John Herron [Sky Sports]?

In fact, fighting against the odds was always where Lennon excelled. When he became interim manager after Tony Mowbray’s exit, we became competitive against a really good Rangers side. After that, he started us off on the 9IAR journey. There are times in Lennon’s career where a bit of adversity actually worked in his favour.

However, he very obviously had a plan for this season, and that plan included French defender Christopher Jullien.

Jullien was a fantastic signing. At £7m [BBC], much would’ve been expected of him, and he went above and beyond. Not only was he the robust defender we needed, he also scored important goals. Rangers and Lazio can vouch for that.

Neil Lennon reacts during Livingston vs Celtic / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Celtic boss Neil Lennon imagined this differently

Jullien was already suffering from niggling injuries before the season began. Despite that, there were no huge concerns about his long-term prospects, and the addition of Shane Duffy was intended to usher in the era of the 3-5-2.

Needless to say by this point, it didn’t work. Duffy has had a dreadful time on and off the pitch since joining on loan, while Jullien, of course, was struggling for fitness before the Dundee United match that since ruled him out for 9 months.

As injuries go, this can be filed under ‘completely avoidable’. Vasilis Barkas’ positioning allowed Dundee United striker Marc McNulty to deftly chip the ball over the Greek goalie. Jullien had to make the vital intervention, and ended up shattering his leg against the post. Given that Celtic ended up winning 3-0, it shows the Frenchman’s commitment that he ended up injuring himself for next to no reason.

It’s always worse to learn of a player’s importance once they’re absent. In the Martin O’Neill days, it was obvious when Lennon was missing. Celtic, without Larsson, fell apart under John Barnes.

With Lennon misplacing his trust in Shane Duffy for too long, we’re finally seeing signs of coping without the talismanic Frenchman. Stephen Welsh has come in and done well, but he lacks the aerial authority and leadership of our £7m man.

The difference he makes to Celtic is obvious. In the team last season, Celtic averaged 2.64 points per game [Transfermarkt]. As a team, in 20-21, the Bhoys average 2.21 points per 90 minutes [FB Ref].

Shane Duffy has struggled at Celtic / (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group via Getty Images)

What next for Celtic with Christopher Jullien missing?

If you’re a fan of the Gregorian Calendar, you’ll be aware that Jullien likely won’t return for Celtic until November. That’s an awfully long time for a defender who is in his late twenties.

This means that, more than ever, Celtic need cover at centre-back. Missing out on Ben Davies stung regardless, but it’s even more of a blow now.

All efforts, then, must be put towards an Ajer extension. If we badly needed him this campaign, then we’ll be reliant on him even more in 21-22. If he goes for big money in the summer, then those funds need to be immediately reinvested into our defence.

Shane Duffy will be gone, too, unless something miraculous happens in the final months of his loan spell. So, there’s a possibility that we go into next season without our three most senior defenders. That’s a concerning thought, during a season that’s given us plenty already.

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