Last night, after we had changed the formation, Neil Lennon did something even more dramatic; he took the captain off, moved Callum to a defensive role, put Ntcham back in the central midfield and replaced him “in the hole” with Tom Rogic.
More than anything else, that seemed to make a big difference to the game.
The formation change – Lennon bizarrely characterised it as a 4-3-3, but watch the movement and the line as we attacked; it was the old 4-2-3-1 – had steadied the ship. Our going to four and the back had made it more difficult for them to rove up and down the wings.
It calmed things down. It was that substitution which saw us start to rotate up through the gears.
Brown has been of the greatest servants Celtic has ever had. I think Brown is one of our finest ever captains. He has certainly had that role during the greatest period of domestic dominance in our, or anyone else’s history, and he has performed that role with distinction.
But Scott Brown is a habit this club should have been trying to break last season. It seems that we intend to keep on playing him week in, week out in this campaign … and Scott might well be capable of doing it on certain occasions but he can no longer be expected to have the legs for it over the course of a season. McGregor is wasted in a defensive role because he’s the best attacking midfielder at the club, but he is better there right now that Brown is.
Playing both Brown and McGregor in holding roles, as Lennon now seems to favour with his new variant of the 3-5-2, slows our team to a crawl. It leaves too big a gap between them and the player in the hole, who last night was Olivier Ntcham, who is simply not built for that role.
For Tom Rogic, it’s the only role he is built for, which is why his appearances under Lennon are much less than under Rodgers. Lennon wants a player there who will also track back and give you everything; that’s why his preferred player for that position is not Ntcham – who doesn’t track back enough – but Ryan Christie who covers every blade of grass.
I thought Ntcham was far better when he came back to play in his central role. Rogic shone in the position he plays in, linking up brilliantly with Christie and Elyounoussi both … Mo had his best 45 minutes in a while, when not being asked to play as a striker.
None of that would have happened had we persevered with Scott Brown on the pitch.
The problem with Scott is that he no longer has the legs to charge around after the ball and close players down as he used to. This is why Lennon plays McGregor alongside him in the defensive role; Callum most of the game cleaning up after Brown, and that’s stupid.
Callum was far more effective in that role when Brown went off.
The other midfielders were liberated and were able to perform the way we know they can.
Nobody is saying that Scott Brown is finished or that he shouldn’t play again, but there is a time and place for him at the club right now and he can be as effective a leader off the pitch as he is on it. We should be sending him on his first coaching courses, we should be encouraging him to consider a future in the backroom team.
And we should be looking for his replacement in the long term; that above all. Allan Campbell at Motherwell is just one of a number of players we should be scouting.
When asked last night why he took Brown off, Lennon said this; “We just thought it was the right thing to do at the right time. He is an amazing player with an amazing personality. It’s not any slight on him; we just thought it was the right thing to do.”
I couldn’t agree more.
It’s an experiment who’s time has come.