So what’s the secret to Celtic’s schizophrenic pre-season, where we’ve combined beautiful, beautiful football with nerve shredding inconsistency, and why shouldn’t that be a cause for concern for us all as we go forward?
Well, tonight gave us the reasons, as if we needed reminding of them.
What Ange has done in the past couple of games is give us our strongest side in the first half and replaced almost every player for the second, with those who are their understudies and backups. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to put these pieces together; of course your second string will not be as strong as the first team is.
Now, we have the advantage at our club of a second string which is still pretty strong, and tonight we were able to bring on Turnbull, Jota and Kyogo in the second half. When the whole squad is fit you can add Giakoumakis, Starflet, Mooy and Lenz to them.
But we know, to a degree of certainty, that at no point during the coming campaign will we line up in a competitive game with a midfield featuring Ideguchi, McCarthy, Turnbull and Mikey Johnston, and not necessarily because they are bad players.
The real issue is that because you’ll never play all these guys together they lack the understanding of a team that plays together every week. That’s why they seem disjointed and disorganised. Because they aren’t used to playing and operating as a unit … that only comes from being drilled together and going through games side by side.
It isn’t that these guys aren’t up to the job; put any two, of them into a team with nine other first team regulars – hell, put three of them into the team at the same time and you’d probably get away with it – and I guarantee you won’t see a significant drop off.
But friendly matches encourage you to put them all on the pitch at the same time. When the last time they were all on a pitch together at the same time was the last time we played friendly games. What do you expect them to produce? What do you expect, but a dip in the overall performance levels? How do you fix that?
Well, you could fix it by mixing the squads up a little. But then you might get two disjointed performances for the price of one. So you obviously don’t want to do that. Every other club in Europe does it this way, and this is one of the reasons why.
So I don’t concern myself much with the negative aspects of pre-season and I never have. You aren’t learning anything except that if you put your entire second sting out against teams you’d be asking for trouble until they’d got used to playing together, but then most managers already know that and don’t change their best eleven much as a result.
It is easy to pick scapegoats and demonise players after a poor second half performance like that. But I ask you; did Jota or Kyogo – two guys we’re pretty sure about – do any better in that second 45 minutes than McCarthy or Ideguchi? Was Mikey Johnston less effective in the second half than Forrest was in the first? You see my point?
I am delighted with certain aspects of the pre-season that we’ve seen.
All involve the attacking side of the team, all involve the players we’re going to watch nail down the starting positions each and every week.
I have no fears about a McCarthy or Ideguchi or Welsh stepping in and filling a void for a couple of games if that’s required at some point … they will have the eight or nine other regular starters alongside them, and that will do just fine.
My concern would be if we had eight or nine first team players out for a spell and we were looking at these guys playing matches when they’ve barely played together in the same staring eleven.
That’s a concern any club in that position would almost certainly share.
Individual mistakes – for which there are no excuses – can still leave me cold. Such as Carter Vickers’ failure to deal with a straightforward punt up the park.
You have to think he’ll be more alert and not nearly as casual when the meaningful business starts … and I’m sure that he will, because he was all those things last season when it mattered.
The same will apply to the overall performances.
You aren’t allowed to make 11 substitutions at half time, you see.
Not when the real stuff starts.