What James Forrest return means tactically for Celtic and Neil Lennon

By Euan Davidson

January 8, 2021

James Forrest returning to the fold for Celtic was welcome news yesterday.

The winger has missed out on much of the 20-21 season. Neil Lennon told Celtic TV yesterday that Forrest was close to a return for the Bhoys.

“Jamesy is not a million miles away now which is huge because he’s been such a pivotal player over the years.”

On the surface, that’s great to hear. Forrest is an industrious, productive wide player. In the 19-20 season, Forrest had 27 goal involvements in 28 league games (via Transfermarkt). In the Europa League, he was involved with 4 goals in 7 games, including three assists.

A one-club man is a rare commodity in modern football, but Forrest is just that. He’s often subject to criticism from supporters, but personally? I’ve never been sure why.

Fine, he can occasionally go missing, but that’s a functional problem for any winger. If Celtic are forced into a grimy, central battle in midfield, wingers are going to see less of the ball.

However, Forrest has proved more than capable under each manager he’s played under at Celtic Park. He’ll end his career as one of Celtic’s most decorated players.

That said, he does pose a tactical problem for Neil Lennon.


Celtic winger James Forrest earlier this season / (Photo by Paul Campbell/Getty Images)

Diamond dismissed for James Forrest Celtic return?

Celtic enjoyed their most fruitful period in December, with wins over Hamilton Accies, Ross County and Dundee United. There was also the win against Lille, which saw Lennon experiment tactically to great success (BBC).

It may not have got the job done against Rangers, but the 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield has turned Celtic around. The introductions of Ismaila Soro and David Turnbull have perfectly complimented Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie, and the Bhoys look more solid defensively and creative going forward.

With two strikers, normally Edouard and Griffiths, Celtic look less passive in and around the 18-year box, with width coming from two full backs. Frimpong has thrived in the set up, taking over attacking and defensive duties on the right-hand side.

That’s a problem with James Forrest closing in on availability.

If Lennon wants to play Forrest, he probably has to change Celtic back to a 3-5-2 or a 4-2-3-1, and that’s bad news for someone. That someone could be one of Ryan Christie or David Turnbull, as it’s unlikely Lennon could utilise two attacking midfielders in that context.

If Forrest playing means Celtic pick up more wins, nobody in the support will be too fussed. However, it does risk stunting the development of at least one of the Bhoys’ midfielders, and that’s a bit of a concern.

What Lennon does next will be extremely interesting. More tinkering at this point might be a fool’s errand, but nobody else in the squad can bring what Forrest does.