We won this one in the first half. In fact, we won it in a six minute spell where we were excellent. In truth, we were pretty good for the whole of the game. The standard of opposition has to be taken into consideration here, but the system worked and the performances from some of the players were absolutely brilliant.
Let’s talk for a second about Leigh Griffiths’ goal. Now, the manager has changed the position he plays Leigh in and this, according to some, was going to stop the player scoring goals as regularly as he has been. Yet Rodgers has done this because he’s watched Leigh’s games on video and he’s concluded that cutting inside and shooting on the left gets goals. Tonight that’s exactly what Leigh did; this was a textbook example of Rodgers seeing something and it coming off.
Will it work against better teams? It remains to be seen, but there’s no reason why it can’t, no reason why Leigh shouldn’t keep on scoring goals well into the future.
Now let’s talk about the system. This is the first 3-5-2 I’ve seen Celtic play in years, and I liked the look of it as I always have. We don’t have the players for that system; we need at least two more central defenders in order to play it to the best of our ability, but it’s a fantastically attacking system and one I’d love to see us play more often.
Listen, this is what you hire a top class boss for. This is what Ronny Deila never learned and what Neil sometimes didn’t seem to want to. I often thought Gordon Strachan fell into the same trap; trying to simply shuffle the personnel but leaving the tactics alone. The 4-4-2 from last week didn’t get through the Imps defence. So tonight Brendan adapted his team to do just that, and but for their keeper we might have run up a cricket score.
This is what good coaches do. They learn every time they go against a team. They change their system to suit the occasion. This is more like it, and that we have a boss here who is willing to make such changes fills me with enthusiasm for the year ahead. Had he persisted with last week’s system we might have gotten the result, but I would have had concerns. Tonight he surprised us all with a formation that was imaginative, although head-scratching.
Armstrong had a good game without being brilliant. Brown, playing in a much more withdrawn role, looked to benefit from having McGregor’s mobility beside him. Even my namesake had a decent game tonight. Dembele is settling into the team and will prove to be an excellent and important addition to the squad. There’s no doubt about that.
But Patrick Roberts stole the show, as he so often does. Brendan must now know the virtue of turning this boy loose every week; when he plays as he did in the first half he is a joy to watch, an absolute joy. He was brilliant. He tore them apart. He has the imagination and skill to destroy teams singlehandedly. I really could have watched him play all night.
This was what the fans expected tonight, no more and no less. Tougher games are to come, and we need to add to this squad. We’re going to Astana. That’s a difficult game, against a tough opponent, in a corner of the world we really would have rather avoid. Brendan did his bit tonight and showed us what he’s got. The onus is on those above him to deliver the signings he wants and needs to make the squad better and make the team more rounded.
It’s over to them. But tonight this was a job well done.