Neil Lennon wasn’t overly-committal earlier today when asked whether he would play with the 3-5-2 in Riga, but did pinpoint its adaptability.
Celtic will travel to Latvia tomorrow for a crunch one-legged Europa League third qualifying round clash at the Skonto Stadium. The Hoops are looking to become the first-ever team to win a European match against Riga at their own ground.
Over the last few weeks, Lennon has deployed an attack-minded 3-5-2 formation with a reliance on advanced wing-backs such as James Forrest, Jeremie Frimpong, and Greg Taylor respectively. Yet it’s a system he’s never used in Europe.
And when pushed this afternoon on whether he would stick with his new formation, the Celtic manager didn’t give too much away as he kept his cards close to his chest.
Speaking at his press conference on Celtic TV, Lennon said: “Well you’re saying the 3-5-2 can’t be conservative – it can. You can play it sort of 3-5-1-1 almost as we have done in the last couple of games with Christie coming off.
“We’ll have a look at it. We did it for the Copenhagen tie (switch back to a four). We just felt that Griffiths wasn’t fully fit to play in the European games but not give too much away, we can be flexible whether we start with a three or the four.”
Celtic’s personnel isn’t suited to a conservative 3-5-2 system
Lennon is right in that there are ways to be a touch more conservative or defensive with a 3-5-2 system. However, Celtic don’t particularly have the personnel with which we can adopt that tactic with any real confidence.
Yes, we can field a 3-5-1-1 which gives you a bit of added midfield strength, but it still leaves you with a one-striker system. The idea of going with three at the back initially was to give Odsonne Edouard a partner up top.
Another way of being conservative with the system is to simply haul your wing-backs further back. That doesn’t necessarily mean you drop into a back five to make it a 5-3-2, but you can have them operate more in the midfield third as opposed to bombing into the attacking third with such regularity.
However, with the likes of Forrest or Frimpong set to start down the right, you can hardly tell players with their skillsets to limit themselves in an attacking capacity.
If Celtic go for their much-heralded 3-5-2 tomorrow night, there won’t be any conservativeness behind it. It’ll be deployed with a view to overwhelming Riga in the final third, as it should be with the players we have at our disposal.
You can’t say for certain what system Lennon will go for tomorrow night, but he did seem keen to touch on the 3-5-2’s benefits. Hopefully that’s a good omen as we all look forward to seeing Ajeti and Edouard linking up again.