The key tactical question that hovers over Celtic boss in Europa League

By Euan Davidson

September 14, 2021

Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou, as he prepares for the Europa League, has some more big decisions to make.

On Saturday, he took a squad dominated by new players, moulded it into a team, and beat Ross County. County, a perennial bogey team from last season. A source of intermittent frustration in a campaign full of it.

For all of the experience, leadership and success in the squad last season, beating the Staggies was a real problem. Postecoglou has done that. Yet, in the crowd on Saturday, you could feel an undercurrent of frustration.

And that was mostly with a midfield that, for whatever reason, wasn’t purring like it normally does.

The criticism wasn’t for Callum McGregor. Yet again, he shuttled up and down the pitch and was his usual, calm and classy self. No, it was more in terms of production, with David Turnbull and Tom Rogic earning a few moans and groans in the 90 minutes on Saturday.

There’s context needed, here. Rogic had just played in ridiculous humidity for Australia, overcoming both China and Vietnam [Socceroos], and accruing plenty of air miles in the process.

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Turnbull just couldn’t really get going in any meaningful way. Much of the production was coming from our wide players, specifically Abada, and later, Adam Montgomery.

That leaves a question for Thursday; stick or twist?

How Celtic midfield could look against Betis in Europa League

Given the options at Postecoglou’s disposal, and his attitude to football in general, you could see Rogic and Turnbull starting again on Thursday. Generally speaking, two have caused problems, but with significant tread on the tyres from international exertions, their quieter afternoon was more than justifiable.

In an attacking sense, both can be excellent. Nullifying William Carvalho’s influence, essentially with two number 10s, can cause real problems for the La Liga side. You throw wingers in Jota and Abada who can cut inside, with full-backs offering support to the midfield, and overlaps are more than possible.

That would surely be what Postecoglou prefers. However, given the fitness concerns and the strength of opposition, this might be a game for Ismaila Soro or James McCarthy.

Photo by ANP Sport via Getty Images

Soro has had something of a slow start, while McCarthy has barely played since arriving. In terms of pace and energy, the Ivorian would be the more obvious choice for an up-tempo, high-press game. If he were to come in, and allow Callum McGregor more creative control by playing higher up, that might work.

Or, if Postecoglou has the intention of grinding a result out, McCarthy might be the way to go. If he’s capable of starting, McCarthy is able to slow the tempo, make Betis work for gaps in midfield, and spray out passes to the wide players. I don’t want to say “the quarterback role”, but… the quarterback role.

What Postecoglou does will be legitimately interesting. If it were me, having Soro on to anchor the midfield and move the ball quickly to McGregor and another in the central positions seems the best move. Especially from a counter-attacking sense, when Celtic look to move the ball quickly after winning set-pieces.

However, the experience of McCarthy is well worth considering, too. He’s played and beaten bigger teams than Betis in his time, and could also take the pressure off McGregor.

What will Ange decide? We’ll have to wait and see.

In other news: Jack Hendry talks up Scottish players moving abroad after Celtic departure