Will A Change In Formation Provide A Change In Fortunes?

Brendan Rodgers

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With Celtic now two points behind Rangers, and the Hoops having an inferior goal difference of +40, three less than Philippe Clement’s side, it’s clear that Brendan Rodgers’ tactics simply aren’t getting the best out of his players.

For much of the season, Rodgers has stuck with his 4-3-3 formation, which by no means is a bad formation.

However, the way in which the Irishman has altered Celtic’s playing style from last season has meant that the Bhoys simply don’t create as many chances or score as often, particularly against low blocks domestically.

After 26 league games played this season, Celtic average 2.23 goals scored per 90 and 0.69 goals conceded.

At the same stage last season they averaged 3.00 goals scored per 90 and 0.89 goals conceded.

This means that, on average, each game this season, Celtic score 1.54 goals more than they concede, compared to last season under Ange Postecoglou, where they averaged 2.11 more goals than they conceded per 90.

The data therefore reflects that Celtic score less. Interestingly, on average, they also concede less.

However, due to the goal differential, when the Hoops do concede, it is considerably more costly with a drop in goal differential of -0.57.

Despite a change to a 4-2-3-1 formation in the last two games, with Kyogo Furuhashi employed as a number 10 behind Adam Idah, Celtic’s lack of creativity in wide areas from wingers has proven costly.

This issue continues to appear just as it has in the 4-3-3 formation for much of the season.


Luis Palma Has Provided A Reasonable Return But Could He Be Doing More?
Luis Palma Has Provided A Reasonable Return But Could He Be Doing More?

Luis Palma’s wing play is predictable, favouring cutting inside onto his right foot and looking to avoid going down the line to put crosses into the box, despite respectable numbers with five goals and nine assists in 21 league games.

However, the Honduran international does have some incredible assets to his game with his ability to play through balls and shoot from distance and inside the box.

This means he would undoubtedly thrive if he were moved inside to play as a number 10 with the freedom to move as he pleases, instead of being forced out onto the wing where he appears to be wasted.


Celtic Have Missed Reo Hatate's Creativity
Celtic Have Missed Reo Hatate’s Creativity

Despite impressive displays against Rangers and St. Mirren, in particular, before the winter break, Paulo Bernardo has shown himself to be ineffective in replicating the chance creation of Reo Hatate.

The Portuguese midfielder lacks Hatate’s all-round play of dribbling, passing, and scoring goals consistently.

With Matt O’Riley rightly receiving plaudits in the first half of the season, his form has fallen off a cliff since the New Year, and Celtic are crying out for Hatate’s creativity.

The Japanese international is currently side-lined with a torn calf, suffered in the Asian Cup with Japan a fortnight ago.

He is expected to remain out of the Celtic squad for a month, with a six-week recovery period forecast.

Undoubtedly, when he returns, Hatate will go straight back into the starting 11, as the Hoops have missed his creative spark for the majority of the season.

This means Rodgers will likely then go with a midfield three of Callum McGregor, O’Riley, and Hatate.

The decision to move back to a midfield three would undoubtedly be the right one.

Moving to a midfield two has left McGregor isolated in counter-attacks, with O’Riley often caught further up the pitch.

A midfield three therefore provides Celtic with greater balance in defensive situations and a more fluid midfield structure.

Leaving questions over the best way to set up Celtic’s frontline, what can be said is that Kyogo and Palma are non-negotiables; their involvement in goals this season is currently the Hoops’ greatest goal threat with the exception of O’Riley.

With Idah scoring two goals and providing an assist in three Scottish Premiership appearances since joining on deadline day, he brings a greater goal-scoring threat than Daizen Maeda, who has only three goals and two assists in 19 league appearances.

This means Rodgers faces the challenge of fitting his best players into the starting 11.


Adam Idah Has Provided Options Since His Loan Move In January
Adam Idah Has Provided Options Since His Loan Move In January

One solution could involve moving to a midfield diamond, with Kyogo and Idah upfront and Palma behind.

Celtic have not employed a 4-3-1-2 formation since a brief spell during the 2020-21 season when Neil Lennon used the unusual formation from December 2020 until his eventual resignation in February 2021.

The Hoops’ back four in this system would be largely certain, with Cameron Carter-Vickers returning to training this week and Greg Taylor’s solid performance on Saturday.

Alexandro Bernabei has shown himself to be a severe downgrade in the Scottish defender’s absence.

With costly mistakes leading to goals conceded against Aberdeen and Kilmarnock, resulting in Celtic dropping a total of four points.

The only question then remains over whether Anthony Ralston will continue to start after Alistair Johnston’s return from injury.

Ralston provides a greater crossing threat in the final third, as showcased with his assist for Kyogo on Saturday against Kilmarnock, and, most importantly, width on the right-hand side.

In comparison, Johnston struggles to provide assists in the final third and has disappointed this season, despite an impressive end to last season following his arrival at the club in January 2023.

In such a narrow formation O’Riley, Hatate, and Ralston’s ability to move into wide areas would prove vital.

Therefore, a diamond formation would provide Taylor the freedom to invert, as he enjoys, and O’Riley the chance to move into the right-wing area at times when spaces opens up playing crosses into Kyogo, as he did to great success under Postecoglou.

Hatate himself having previously played as a left back in Japan, has also managed to develop a great relationship with Taylor on the left side of the pitch, meaning each player could seamlessly interchange

Most importantly, Palma would also have the ability to create chances from the centre and take shots on goal, which are the biggest strengths of his game.

Lastly, a front two of Kyogo and Idah, who have linked up relatively well in a short period of time, would allow both players to drop deep at times and support the midfield.

This would add an unpredictability factor upfront for opposing defenders, creating confusion over which striker to mark when the other drops deep.

Whether the manager deploys this, or indeed any alternative formation in the weeks ahead remains to be seen.

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3 thoughts on “Will A Change In Formation Provide A Change In Fortunes?”

  1. That’s a sound formation and tactics, unfortunately it’s unlikely Rodgers reads social media or changes formation.
    Pride and/or stubbornness gets us nowhere.

  2. Biggest fault within our play to date imo, for which there are way to many still, is the link up play between full backs and wide player on both sides of the pitch has been pretty atrocious so far this season.
    And in teams cutting out the passing lines into calmac, allows them to be far more aggressive with the press against ourselves, forcing us to go long, and them able to recycle the football far to easily, with us not able to win 1st or 2nd balls?
    Glaring problems within our play and remains unaddressed?
    WHY still remains an unanswered question?
    We still have plenty of flexibility within our squad, but becoming way to robotic in our approach taken in way to many games for my liking?
    Believe that we still have plenty of options available to go with a 3CB option?
    Could give ourselves far better options in attacking and defending set plays imo.
    Could also go with 2 no6 in iwata and calmac, and in theory more options available to play out from the back, with better cover against the counter attack, and allowing calmac to be more influencal in the attacking areas imo?
    Think Maeda alongside kyogo could provide better movement in the front line, especially with Maeda producing next to nothing in the wider areas to date this season.
    Would still have idah and Oh in reserve, so allows for a bit of mixing and matching depending upon the opposition.
    Behind a front 2, we could still have a 3, with options available?
    Agreed Palma could potentially do a decent job, centrally behind a front 2, with Hatate and Oreily either side of him?
    Again options available to allow for mixing and matching imo?
    Need to start controlling the midfield areas far better than presently, and more options available to getting the ball into the danger areas, and wouldn’t be allowing teams to get out so easily against ourselves either imo?
    We might look like a 3232 formation, but still believe that we have the player’s to play such a way, and bring a freshness to our game also, with more variation in options available to ourselves imo?
    Surely it couldn’t be any worse than the muck we are getting served up currently with the approach Rodgers seems to like to take?

  3. Set pieces and defending crosses are still our weak points….. if it wasn’t for JH on Saturday, we would have been beaten, Kilmarnock won every single set piece, and then there was the goal from a cross…..

    The one thing that the crabit Belgian has done is play a formation that suites their players…. two sitting midfielders covering for the fullbacks when they attack, pretty simple really but effective to a degree.

    BR definitely has the players at the club to play a more balanced team to be creative but also strong defensively.

    3-5-2 for me all day……
    3 CB wae two wing backs and two up front….

    Walsh, CCV, Scales
    Maeda, Hatate, McGregor, O’Reilly, Taylor
    Idah. Kyogo

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