Nir Bitton’s appearances at this stage of the season tend to be in his secondary role as a centre-back.
It’s been a popular route for Celtic in the past. Two years ago, Bitton played a part in Brendan Rodgers’ run to the Champions League group stages by plying his trade at the back.
The normally composed and reliable defensive midfielder was at it again last night. With Christopher Jullien still not fit and Jack Hendry injured, Lennon went for Bitton at the back. It wasn’t a decision that needed made considering Anthony Ralston was available and Kristoffer Ajer was playing right-back instead.
But Bitton did well enough on the night. He was too good for the Sarajevo front-men to get much change from. However, it’s absolutely essential that Lennon doesn’t continue the experiment the deeper we go into the qualifiers.
One thing that was overlooked was some of the slack passes from Bitton last night. He invited some dangerous attacks from Sarajevo with what, at times, was some lazy looking distribution. Celtic’s defence always recovered from it, however, and therefore it wasn’t really highlighted.
Nir Bitton’s appearances can’t be frequent at this level
Celtic look like facing Shkendija in the second qualifying round. The North Macedonians don’t have much of a history in Europe like Sarajevo didn’t before them. Therefore, Lennon may be able to get away with featuring Bitton over the next couple of weeks.
But, truthfully, it’s something Lennon should be seriously looking to avoid. Even with Hendry and Jullien unavailable, it would still probably suit to have a natural right-back in there in Ralston. That would allow the more reliable duo of Jozo Simunovic and Ajer to feature alongside each other.
The further we go into these qualifiers, the more Bitton will be a massive danger for us. He’s a tidy footballer, but he isn’t a centre-back, no matter how often we like to pretend he can be.
Lennon obviously felt it was needs must last night. Considering the result come the end of it, he was proven right on the night. But all it takes when Jullien returns is one more injury for us to be in this exact situation again.
Lennon has already said that Celtic will “possibly” sign another centre-back this summer. Having to play Bitton at centre-back again shows just how essential it now is that we bring another one in.
Bitton proved good enough last night, and remains a good squad man to have in case of emergencies, particularly domestically. But, moving forward, hopefully this isn’t a frequent sight.