Celtic defending needs to improve exponentially for Ange-ball to work

By Euan Davidson

October 1, 2021

Another European night for Celtic, and another in which the Bhoys were the catalyst to their own failures.

It’s been a frustrating story for a long time now, going back several managers and mini-eras at the club. We are the architects of our own downfall so much of the time when we face stronger opposition from Europe.

Celtic created chances last night against Bayer Leverkusen, with a cavalier style that’s a trademark of manager Ange Postecoglou. When it works, it’s thrilling, something we’ve seen evidence of already.

Yet, just like Betis, an opposition team has put four past us. A lot of that was down to individual errors, but there were structural, or personnel, issues there too.

Postecoglou wants his team to attack and defend as a unit. Admirable. But for Bayer’s first goal, we saw a tired David Turnbull get caught in two minds before botching an attempt to clear the ball. Bayer snuck in and scored.

For the second, Anthony Ralston was caught out of position, in central midfield. A precise pass cut us open on his flank, and Starfelt was outnumbered. Bayer suddenly had numbers in the box, and of course they were going to take advantage.

Celtic 0-4 Bayer Leverkusen | LIVE Reaction

BridTV
5401
Celtic 0-4 Bayer Leverkusen | LIVE Reaction
873804
873804
center
15596

If the third was unlucky, the fourth wasn’t. Starfelt and Carter-Vickers were caught out, running on fumes as injury time progressed. Again, it was so simple; a counter attack, two or three good passes, and they were in.

It isn’t just Europe, either. Celtic are far, far too easily caught out domestically, it’s costing us games.

Can the Celtic defending problem be fixed?

Celtic and their defending can improve, of course, but they need to work on it a lot.

The key thing here is personnel. The midfield combination of Rogic and Turnbull just don’t have the energy to get back quickly enough. Callum McGregor, coming back from injury, gave a valiant effort, but Postecoglou’s tactics require a more energetic midfield to defend as a unit.

When the ball is in the middle of the park, the two numbers 10s aren’t good enough at reading passes and pressing. If Ange-ball is to work, they’ve got to have the stamina to put pressure on their opposition, otherwise moves can bypass the midfield entirely and put us in danger.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

As for your full-backs? The inverted role is tough, even for really established defenders. Of course, there are outliers like Philip Lahm under Pep Guardiola, who was so accomplished he latterly played as a defensive midfielder [Total Football Analysis].

Anthony Ralston has shown he’s good in the role when we’re in possession. When we’re not, he struggles to get back into position quickly enough. Similarly, Adam Montgomery laboured in the same way. That has the obvious knock-on effect of leaving acres of space for fast wingers to exploit.

If you’re going to use inverted full-backs, you need to be reliant on at least one midfielder to fill the gap, so a back 3 can cover enough ground to nullify an attack. As we’ve discussed, neither Rogic nor Turnbull can be relied upon to do that.

The thing is; this can work. It’s just that the players Celtic have probably aren’t necessarily equipped to carry out what Postecoglou wants.

If the manager is going to stick to his guns on his tactical blueprint, then some serious surgery is required in January when the transfer window re-opens.

Read more: Jeremie Frimpong bigs up standard at Celtic after Bayer Leverkusen win