Width aplenty, star turn makes difference: 3 things we learned from Kilmarnock v Celtic

By Euan Davidson

February 2, 2021

Kilmarnock v Celtic was a match the Bhoys absolutely had to win.

There were no excuses for failure here. Kilmarnock were without a manager going into the match [BBC]. Celtic, meanwhile, had plenty to prove after a humbling 2-1 defeat by Jim Goodwin’s St. Mirren. Much work had to be done in a small window of time to avoid another catastrophe.

And avoid catastrophe Celtic did. There wasn’t a great deal of excitement going into this match, admittedly, but it was a comfortable away win against a side who held us to a draw earlier in the season [BBC]. What more could you ask for?

So what did we learn, as Celtic beat Kilmarnock 4-0?

Jonjoe Kenny warming up / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

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In the first 15 minutes, Celtic attempted to keep the majority of the build-up on the wings. Greg Taylor drilled in some low crosses, while Jonjoe Kenny’s loftier passes created dangerous combinations.

I’ve said before that a very narrow looking midfield diamond actually leads to Celtic using their width more readily. In attacking scenarios, we often saw Brown coming back to create a back-three, with Taylor and Kenny building momentum through energetic wide play.

By playing wide with a front two, it stretches the opposition defence out, and leaves opportunities for the two strikers to break defensive lines. Creating that space with a deep-lying forward like Ajeti will eventually pay dividends for the Bhoys. We haven’t seen much of Ajeti as a creator, but by proxy, his positioning creates opportunities.

It won’t always be the approach Celtic take. But having that tactical flexibility is a good thing for Celtic, going forward.

David Turnbull gets his temperature taken / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Turnbull’s pivotal role

David Turnbull continues to impress to such a degree, that you forget he’s a new signing.

His corner for Scott Brown’s goal was excellent, and he often found pockets of space for a shot or a clever pass. While Celtic did a lot of their build-up work on the flanks (as mentioned), Turnbull had to work hard to beat a stubborn, compact defence.

He also did some of the dirty work, too. According to WhoScored?, the former Motherwell man covered vast areas of the pitch, while winning 3 aerial duels in the first half. That’s the most of any Celtic player. He’s surely in with a shot for inclusion with the Scotland squad, and he’s proving himself to be an all-action midfielder.

He was also successful with 92% of his passes, against an incredibly crowded midfield. Once again, he was absolutely key to everything that Celtic did right in this match.

Turnbull is going to be absolutely vital for Celtic in years to come.

Edouard scores for Celtic / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Celtic make most of set-pieces

So, I’ve talked ad nauseam about the Bhoys’ inability to defend set-pieces. Equally, for many years, we’ve been unable to make the most of corners and free kicks. Not the case tonight.

Broony’s headed goal came from a David Turnbull corner, while Odsonne Edouard’s penalty never looked like missing. Colin Doyle can feel slightly aggrieved, after guessing the right way, but Eddy’s cool demeanour dictated no other result than Celtic going 2-0 up.

Obviously, this is a good thing. But it’s particularly important in games like tonight’s. Played at a pretty slow pace on Killie’s plastic pitch, the manager-less hosts made it difficult for us. Ryan Christie had a quite frustrating night, despite clever movement and enterprising one-touch passing.

If Neil Lennon is going to pick up wins, especially away from home, taking advantage of dead ball situations is vital.