Yesterday, amidst the sound and fury elsewhere, Celtic strolled to a 7-0 romp at Shamrock Rovers.
Now, this wasn’t a result that will have us celebrating long and hard. Unlike the fans of a certain other club who treated their 6-0 home win over an English League 2 side as if they had just won a crucial Champions League tie, no-one is getting carried away.
This was a Rovers team that played a game the night before. It was a kick-about for our players, but one where there was nevertheless something to see. First was the goal from young Lewis Morgan, who took it beautifully playing wide-right, and there was also the display by Odsonne Edouard, who we can now permanently call one of our own.
The curiosity was the team shape.
This morning I noticed some wailing online about how we’re going into the Champions League game with Jack Hendry at right back; first up, Hendry has performed well there in the past and we should have no worries about him filling that slot temporarily.
But there’s something else, and it’s this; Brendan appears to be trying a new way of playing.
Yesterday we used three different formations.
In the first system, Kieran plays as a winger, Sinclair plays in the middle behind the strikers … and we utilise two of them. In effect, we were playing a 3-5-2. Which has Hendry joining Simo and Ajer in central defence.
And this is doubly interesting, because you can look at the formation yesterday and similarly see a 4-4-2 with the traditional flat back four, Callum on one flank and Sinclair on the other.
But even more interesting it that you with exactly the same personnel you can play it as a straight up 4-2-3-1, which is Brendan’s traditional formation, by putting Callum “in the hole”, playing Sinclair on one flank … and Edouard on the other.
That starting eleven can be transformed three times in one game, all of them giving us different options for unlocking a defence … and at varying times yesterday we alternating between those three different formations.
And that is a superb way to prepare for the new campaign.
Squad versatility is important to Brendan.
It’s why we have players who can function in more than one role. Lewis, Scott, Callum, Jonny Hayes and James Forrest are all just as capable of playing on the left as on the right. Scott and James have played as strikers. Callum can play through the middle, and even as a holding midfielder although it’s not his best position. Jonny Hayes can deputise as a left back when need be, although the prospect doesn’t thrill me.
Hendy can play at right back or as a central defender. Ajer can play in defence or midfield. So too can Nir Bitton. Kieran has played left back, left winger, left wing back and at central defence. For Scotland he plays as a right back, and it doesn’t hurt his game.
One of the problems for us last season was our seemingly predictable system. Brendan seems to have acknowledged that, and the most exciting element of it is that he seems now to be coming round to the idea of playing two up front. Not only is that good news for our attacking prowess but it suggests Dembele is sticking around and that Griffiths will get more game time as well, and that augers well for us going into the season.
This is a big week for us. We’re stepping back out onto the Champions League stage, and we need to be convincing because tougher games are waiting for us, particularly if Rosenborg also qualifies. The team performance will be watched closely, and the system we use will give us some insight into how we intend to approach the campaign.
Yet it’s in domestic football where such a system of changing and morphing the way we play will have the greatest dividends. This is Brendan’s third year at the helm and our opponents think they have him, and the way we play, figured out.
The evidence suggests that they are in for one Hell of a surprise.