One of the more troubling aspects of the plan Ange intends to follow is the prospect of having a midfield permanently built around one defensive player and two attackers. It’s a little gung-ho and can leave the defence cruelly exposed.
If there was ever a night where we might get awful evidence of that it is this one.
Leverkusen are head and shoulders above any side we have faced so far or any side that we are likely to come up against. They are a brilliant team, full of great footballers and capable, on their day, of challenging any top side in Europe.
They come to Celtic Park tonight at the worst possible time for us, a time when we’re all asking questions about some of the ideas the manager has about how the game should be played. It’s all well and good not wanting to compromise on his principles, but the first principle for a Celtic manager should be doing what he has to in order to win.
I don’t expect us to win tonight. Few do. Anything other than a loss will be a huge result, because we’re just not ready at the moment for a test of this magnitude. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t, and won’t, learn something from the experience.
I think one of the most valuable lessons might come about in the midfield, if Ange feels that we need to shut the back door to avoid a real hammering. Playing two defensive midfielders instead of one – providing everyone is fit – might be the way to go in certain games.
Ange needs to be a pragmatist as well as an ideologue. Clearly, you would like to think we could get away with swashbuckling football which takes the game to our opponents and leaves them reeling every week … in practice it just won’t be possible.
Some games are going to be battles and I’ve seen nothing to suggest that Rogic and Turnbull are an effective midfield partnership on days like that. McCarthy might not be to everyone’s taste, but if you team him up with Callum you get a better balance.
Our success of recent years was built around two capable holding players, McGregor and Brown. I am certain that the manager has actually considered this and I’m half convinced that only our injury crisis has denied the manager the chance to play McGregor and McCarthy in the same team up until now; that time is certainly almost upon us.
I suspect that when he does that we’ll see a far more solid shape to the team, and it might be what finally puts on us a halfway decent run. Furthermore, if Callum really is going to be ready to return to first team action I think we might see it at some point tonight.
With McCarthy in the holding role, as Brown used to be, Callum becomes a potent attacking weapon, but unlike with Rogic and Turnbull, he has defensive assets as well. This is why I’ve long thought of him as the most important player at the club.
On a night like this one, we can afford a Rogic or Turnbull to give support to the three front men. We cannot afford both of them. That’s asking for trouble.
Manchester United are struggling to make a similar midfield system work and they have Fernandes and Pogba in their attacking roles with McTominey providing cover for the back four; this isn’t just about personnel; it’s about leaving yourself exposed no matter what footballers you have at your disposal. Come up against the wrong team and you get punished.
Ange must have seen enough by now to know what’s what.
Tonight could be a brutal lesson if he hasn’t already learned some stuff, but that’s why they call it a lesson, because even a real tanking can teach you something … it can teach you what not to do in future.
One way or another, we’re about to find out a few things about these players, this manager and the style he wants to play. Good or bad, as long as we learn tonight might prove to be the turning point in this campaign regardless of what the result happens to be.