Following Celtic’s 3-2 win over Swedish outfit Malmo in the Champions League, Ronny Deila’s men had to quickly turn their attention to domestic matters for a lunchtime kick-off against Dundee United. So far this season, Celtic have been impressive winning all their games but one, a 2-2 draw at home to Kilmarnock. Celtic haven’t however, been top of the league, newly promoted Hearts have scraped out some good results, winning all four of their opening games.
United have had a different start to the season, they have started pretty slowly,managing just one win from their opening four matches. The Premiership’s longest serving boss, Jackie McNamara has come under fire from the media and many are doubting if he can take United any further. He has lost a number of key players in the last six months but United have never been known as a buying club, they always do tend to sell on their young talents, recruiting and nuturing new youngsters ready to jump on the Dundee United development escalator.
In goals for Dundee United was Lukas Zwick,he was protected by a back-four of D’s,Dillon,Donaldson,Durnan and Dixon,in front as a holding midfielder was John Souttar,just in front of him was McGowan and Fraser. United’s three forwards were Erskine,Muirhead and Spittal.
On the back of a tolling European match midweek,Ronny Deila made 9 changes to his side. Debutee Logan Bailly was Celtic’s goalie. In front was a back-four of Janko,Ambrose,O’Connell and Izaguirre. Celtic’s double-pivot was Charlie Mulgrew and Tom Rogic,who was AIN a new role,used to playing as a more attack-minded midfielder. The three in Celtic’s 4-2-3-1 from right to left was Mackay-Steven,Commons and Stokes. Up front, the in-form Leigh Griffiths retained his place in the team. Deila notably named a bench bursting with young talent from the academy,new signing Scot Allan was also on the bench.
United’s Connectivity Issues
Every time Celtic played the ball out through Ambrose or O’Connell, there was a clear issue for United, they lacked any compactness between forwards and midfield. Ambrose and O’Connell would play simple combination passes between themselves(I will speak about this later) until a space for one of them to drive into opened up. Due to Muirhead being a lone striker for United, he obviously found it difficult to block passing lanes from Celtic’s defence to midfield but also to prevent either of the centre-backs advancing with the ball. When Muirhead eventually gave up on both taks due to being exhausted with constant shuttle runs, Ambrose or O’Connell would drive into free space. When they did this, they would often find about 15 metres of unoccupied space to dribble into,due to United’s midfield sitting so deep. Mulgrew and Rogic’s movement was also key in freeing up this space, they would move away from the ball, bringing a man with them and in the process also opening up and passing lane from centre-back to Commons or Griffiths.
Janko’s Marauding Runs
A key part of Celtic’s game was their full-backs attacking(again, I will touch on this later in the article) and in particular,the width they provided. Often in the first half,full-backs Janko and Izaguirre were the providers of Celtic’s final,usually a cross into the penalty spot area but sometimes even a cutback for a late runners. On this point, I will focus on the movements of Mackay-Steven. Mackay-Steven had a very quiet game against his former club,but this certainly doesn’t mean he had a bad game. Due to Janko’s preference to run straight down the wing,rather than come inside to the halfspace,Makckay-Steven would obviously have to move from the wing in order to give Janko the space he needed to run into. This meant Mackay-Steven would mostly have to come into the halfspace,an area where he is less effective.
Celtic’s Patient Build-Up
This is the point I have previously mentioned. Celtic’s two build-up options were:
1)Play combination passes between centre-backs,even using goalkeeper if needed, until a space opens up for a centre-back to drive into. When in the space,make use of the passing lane to Commons or Griffiths,if blocked,look for a holding midfielder who will then look to play a high,diagonal to a winger.
2)Play combination passes between centre-backs,even using goalkeeper if needed,until their is a space for a full-back to drive into,quickly move the ball to the full-back with space,he will then drive down the line and hopefully cross or play a cutback to a late runner.
Celtic used the second option far more,largely down to the success Janko found driving down the right flank. Mackay-Steven could have made this situation even more dangerous if he had supported Janko,creating a 2v1 overload due to young Blair Spittal’s low low defensive awareness.
Mulgrew and Rogic Complement Each Other with Positioning
As mentioned before, Celtic’s main scope of attack was usually out wide. This often meant Mulgrew and Rogic didn’t see as much of the ball as they’d like,therefore it was important that when the were on the ball it was important that they used it effectively. To give each other freedom and space to play the way they want, the player without the ball would look to move ahead of the player in possession to,1) give him a forward,short passing option 2) give him the space he needs to pass to/from or dribble into. Below is a example of Rogic moving away from Mulgrew.
If Rogic was in line with Mulgrew, then Mulgrew wouldn’t have a passing option other than Janko,which is a very difficult pass,this would likely mean Mulgrew would lose the ball by either being caught in possession or attempting a pass that is almost impossible.
Goals from Leigh Griffiths and Callum McGregor plus and own goal from Mark Durnan sealed a 3-1 win for the Hoops. It was a win that please Ronny Deila and Celtic fans alike,with a few young players as well as rotation players getting their chance. United struggled to control the game at any point,probably down to the fact that right-back McGowan isn’t used to playing at such a high tempo in the middle of the park. Celtic looked superior in all areas of the pitch and deserved the win.
The next stop for Celtic would be Sweden,where they will look to secure Champions League qualification. It won’t be an easy task sure, but if Deila’s men can continue to control matches and create good opportunities, then the only real area that needs to be solidified would Be the defence.