Patience, planning and good decisions: 3 things we learned from Celtic v Aberdeen

By Euan Davidson

February 27, 2021

Celtic v Aberdeen felt like one of the tougher possibilities for John Kennedy to face.

After all, it was a narrow win 10 days ago, with an early Turnbull goal making the difference [BBC]. Fine, on the surface this game was a mirror image of that game in some ways. Edouard hit early, with a certain degree of luck, and Aberdeen couldn’t make a breakthrough.

More than that though, there were encouraging signs from a Celtic perspective. Yes, “new manager bounce” is a thing, but John Kennedy wasn’t going to lead Celtic to a 9-0 win today. At the moment, it’s about revolution more than evolution.

About those encouraging signs: here’s what we learned as Celtic secured another win over the Dons.

Diego Laxalt, Celtic full-back / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Flying full-backs, playing with a plan

I’ve criticised Diego Laxalt recently. His defensive positioning can be suspect, and I don’t think he’s contributed enough in an attacking sense. Today was a good game, though.

Both Laxalt and Jonjoe Kenny were being found time and again, and breaking lines rather than firing early crosses to nobody in particular. Kennedy has clearly already worked on this, with both full-backs roving forward and beating their man creating a 7-man attack.

The play in general was much wider. Jonjoe and Kenny were hugging the touchline rather than cutting inside, and it worked to excellent effect. Klimala should’ve scored from Kenny’s fantastic low, whipped cross. Laxalt was doing excellent work as part of build-up play, linking well with McGregor in particular.

We might not see the diamond being used for much longer, but the width on show was incredibly encouraging.

Patience: David Turnbull / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Patience a virtue for Celtic v Aberdeen

There was a moment around the 54, 55 minute mark that was striking. Ryan Christie had the ball, there was plenty of pace on it, outside the box. He passed it to his left.

That doesn’t sound remarkable, but it was indicative of something bigger. Time and again, Celtic were much more patient. Under Lennon, players like Christie had become incredibly wasteful, but the Bhoys were recycling the ball well and dominating possession.

This might sound a bit Lionel Hutz (“there’s the truth, and the truth!“) but there’s keeping possession, and there’s keeping possession. In this game, the passing had purpose. Shifting the ball side to side and just ahead meant that against Celtic, Aberdeen were constantly busting a lung to recover and attempt a press. It was as if the Hoops on the pitch remembered how capable they are from a technical standpoint.

Much like the full-backs refusing to hit the ball vaguely towards a striker, the midfield play was much more patient, but much more purposeful.

Yes, there’s still a hell of a lot of work for Kennedy to do. Celtic formed a lot of bad habits over the last year, and undoing those may take longer than 8 matches. But we played with a style more reminiscent of Brendan Rodgers. That’s a good thing.

John Kennedy, interim Celtic manager / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Effective in-game management

Clearly, Aberdeen had the best of the start of the second half. There were a couple of hairier moments, with Ash Taylor’s throw-ins causing problems. Luckily, the Bhoys were able to keep them from equalising.

On the 64th minute, John Kennedy realised the momentum of the game was changing, and brought on Mohammed Elyounoussi. That meant a change to 4-2-3-1, with Elyounoussi playing on the left, Christie on the right. That was effective, and decisive stuff from the interim boss.

It wasn’t an attacking change so much as a defensive one. With Laxalt beginning to tire, and Aberdeen finding some joy through Niall McGinn, the change took pressure off the Uruguayan. Laxalt’s remit became about defending crosses into the box; still a huge worry from a Celtic perspective.

It’s one game, as small of a sample size as you can get. But a manager who successfully recognises the flow of the match, and doesn’t make changes for change’s sake, is refreshing.

READ MORE: The quick fix Kennedy could make going forward.