I’m sure I wasn’t the only one surprised by Saturdays performance.
Going into the game I was really confident given the situation around the match.
Not only had we just sealed the title but our rivals were beginning their period of transition with a number of fringe players coming into their starting 11.
When I saw the line ups, I was confident that we’d come away with a victory.
Even with the number of changes we were making, I felt we had enough first choice players to cope and plenty in reserve if needed.
However, it didn’t work out that way. In fact, the game raised more questions than I expected it to.
Without Cameron Carter-Vickers, the lack of defensive instinct within the team begins to show.
The first and third goals are good examples of this and were reminiscent of goals we lost in our European campaign this season.
For the first goal we’ve players back but no-one affecting the play which results in a goal being conceded far too easily.
The third was an individual mistake in a dangerous area which isn’t the first we’ve seen against an alert and capable opponent.
I wonder if we’ll now see Ange look to integrate a defensive specialist into our midfield.
He’s flirted with the idea in the past. We were linked to Vini Souza and even signed Oliver Abildgaard on loan earlier in the season.
Now with Tomoki Iwata signed, I hope we start to see him get more playing time as I am not confident we can face better opponents with the same midfield 3 that we played on Saturday.
Issues on the Wings
A lot of the talk post match was about Alexandro Bernabei’s performance. To be fair to Alexandro, I don’t think he was directly responsible for any of the 3 goals we conceded. That being said he did provide too many uncomfortable moments.
I do wonder if we are misinterpreting the plan Ange has for how to utilise Alexandro’s strengths.
I don’t think Ange is looking for him to do the same job as our other full backs. I think he wants us to have an option who can drive forward offering a different way to open up our opponent instead of inverting as much as say Greg Taylor would.
However, possession value models can still be powerful. As you can see, Bernabei is Celtic's highest ranking player for open play xT p90.
This article drills into why this is, and the implications it has.https://t.co/3G8kEPnDWz
— Stephen (@SRFootball_) May 9, 2023
Stephen’s excellent article (@SRFootball on twitter) is a very interesting insight into the strengths Alexandro brings to a team.
He isn’t the first fullback of that type that Ange has tried to sign. We had Yan Bueno Couto close to signing on loan last season who plays the role in a similar fashion.
Ange has spoken in the past about not really being interested in rigid systems and in fact hoping to evolve a team to make good decisions as the game develops.
He talks a lot about wanting multiple different types of threat on the pitch. Similar to how we have very different wingers and strikers, I think we are seeing that with fullbacks now.
I would suggest the blend of our team didn’t work.
I’m a big fan of Abada but I feel the way he plays the game can bring the same issues as some of the parts of Bernabei’s game.
Having both on the pitch regularly (taking risks particularly in the areas they do) can put us into trouble. Not having the correct players around them to provide a sufficient safety net causes us problems.
Not only that but I think having both lose the ball so often on Saturday interrupted our ability to gain any kind of rhythm in the game.
That’s not to say one or the other wont work but I would be reluctant to play both together again against a stronger opponent particularly with the 3 central midfielders we fielded.
The Right Blend
Finding the right blend between these different players will take time. Possibly a bit of experimentation. The players will need time to adapt to how each other play. Relationships will develop the more they play together.
Saturdays game felt more like an opportunity to expose our young players to an intimidating atmosphere rather than a serious attempt at finding the correct blend of our players.
And The Positives?
Losing any game is difficult to take but there are definite positives to take from the game.
It was a reminder that a number of our players have a long way to go to become first choice in their positions.
The next time these players step out into a hostile atmosphere they will be better prepared for it.
I think it’s confirmed the need for more defensive instinct and perhaps more physicality amongst our midfield.
It should be clearer as to how we balance the team to get the best out of our squad options.
Are We Reading Too Much Into It?
It was after all a glorified friendly. However, that doesn’t mean deficiencies weren’t exposed.
I’m not convinced anyone has fatally harmed their chances of being part of our squad going forward.
It was a very young side and the younger ones should have learned far more from that game than in any other this season.
The proof will be whether they demonstrate that they can learn from the experience and show enough improvement over the next while to be a part of the squad going forward.
We’re far from the finished article but for Celtic to progress its unlikely we’ll have the budget to sign ready made Champions League quality footballers. We’ll need to develop them.
If Saturday’s game has accelerated the development of our young players then it will turn out to have been a very worthwhile exercise.
If it has confirmed a few deficiencies in our squad then its better to do that in a game that doesn’t have any bearing on silverware.
I’m sure it’ll have given Ange and his coaching staff food for thought as to how they take us to the next level.
As always it’s going to be interesting to see what steps the management team take next.
Tune in to the latest episode of The Celtic Exchange Weekly as we discuss Learning Lessons In Defeat. Kyogo’s Personal Treble & Celtic’s “No Ego” Environment.
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