Tonight, in that first half, we looked a team without ideas.
The moment in the whole match which summed up our raging insecurities and neurosis was the one where Mikael Lustig gave the ball away with a Thistle player pressuring him. I thought it was a shocking decision to award the penalty, but tonight I’m less interested in John Beaton’s diabolical decision making than I am with the dilemmas facing Brendan Rodgers.
For some of us, the signs in that first half were downright worrying.
Glaring deficiencies, it seemed, were not just being overlooked, they were being ignored. How could he not see what we do? How could he be so blind as to think this defence was up to par? Lustig had been a disaster waiting to happen for months. The central defence still looked weak.
At half time it became clear that he had seen them after all.
He made the right changes, but the worry remains.
For the manager to say he is happy with the makeup of the backline … it frankly defies belief.
There are problems with our defending so bad they are practically screaming.
For all the talk about Dembele and Griffiths and the search for a creative player, the growing realisation amongst the Celtic support is that the issues that haunted Rodgers’ time at Anfield are coming into clarity with a vengeance. He puts too much faith in attacking footballers and not enough store in the simple truth that great teams are built from the back.
It doesn’t matter how many great forward going players we have on the books; all their good work can be undone at a stroke by defenders who give the ball away and cannot play under pressure. Lustig is, and has for months, been Exhibit A.
It is for this reason more than any other that we’ve suffered such staggering defeats against the top sides in the Champions League.
The question has to be asked. It has to be asked; does Brendan Rodgers’ football philosophy allow for organising a backline? Does he know what it takes to build a defensive unit? The evidence of Anfield was to the contrary. Are we now destined to suffer the same fate? To see everything come unglued because of defensive weakness?
The manager does see this; the substitution at half time demonstrated it quite ably. We looked much more comfortable with a back three and it resolved that other glaring issue, that our team looks too predictable playing the same system every single week.
With two up front we pulled their entire team shape apart.
Play that system more often and we’ll soon be back to winning games with style.
It remains to be seen whether Brendan decides to tinker with the formation … but the difference between the two halves shows the value in playing in a more unpredictable way.
Griffiths came on and scored a winner, and the argument is now settled in the eyes of many people about who our first choice striker should be.
I still think Moussa is a better player but tonight made it clear that’s over.
Curiously, this might actually end up helping us because the forward line position is now clearly Leigh’s to lose.
That argument, at least, is settled.
With the forward position issue now resolved – and as far as I’m concerned it is; Leigh should be the first name on the team sheet from now on – the problems with the back line are the ones we’ll return to time and again. If this window closes without action in this area the manager has made a rod for his own back and especially against Zenit.
The defence absolutely must be sorted out.
We must not – we cannot – go into the Zenit game with such limited options at the back.
It is now the only priority that matters.
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