Ever since the season started, many of us have been crying out for Neil Lennon to adopt the 3-5-2 formation.
It suited Celtic so well at the start of the year as we powered to the title between January and March. 33 goals were scored in just 12 domestic matches as the Hoops roared to success.
However, since its return this season in recent games against St Mirren and Ross County, many of us will have noticed that the club still seems to concede plenty of chances at the back.
Ross County created a host of opportunities that could’ve seen them bag a few had it not been for Vasilis Barkas. St Mirren also had some early joy against us on the counter-attack and seemed to get space down either flank in different stages of the game last night.
But that’s not down to bad defending. The truth is, that’s just the nature of the 3-5-2 system when you play in the style that Celtic do.
The idea of having wing-backs generally gives the manager the option to drop to a back five if he feels necessary. However, Celtic don’t do that domestically and shouldn’t either.
Instead, we have the likes of Jeremie Frimpong/James Forrest and Greg Taylor/Mo Elyounoussi down either flank. Their main focus is to charge forward and provide a genuine attacking threat.
Attacking wing-backs leaves space to exploit
Therefore, at times that can effectively leave us with no width defensively if teams hit us quickly and efficiently on the counter. The centre-backs will be there to be got at and don’t like to be forced out wide if they can avoid it.
Celtic’s strategy at the moment is to score more goals than the opposition. It’s not to keep clean sheet upon clean sheet. We’re focusing on what we’re good at – breaking teams down and overwhelming them in the final third.
Because of how we work with the 3-5-2, it’s always going to leave gaps at the back. That doesn’t mean that the defence isn’t doing its job, it’s just a lot more vulnerable than it would be if we had a back four with width.
It’s a brave system the manager is playing at the moment, and he deserves credit for sticking with it so far. But as supporters we simply have to understand that teams will create and subsequently score more goals against us than they would if we deployed a more conservative set-up.
What Lennon has also done is invest in genuine quality at centre-back via the signing of Shane Duffy. We need the best centre-backs we can get in a 3-5-2 as positioning is absolutely vital.
So it’s time to realise that this won’t be a Celtic side this season that looks back on how brilliantly and consistently it kept the opposition out. It’s about doing what was so successful last season and looking back on how we overpowered the opposition with our goal threats.
That’s the 3-5-2 for you. It’s a risky system, but my goodness it can reap rewards if used against the right opposition.