Celtic’s tactical approach is in the news again, or rather the question as to whether or not we should be looking to change it is. The way we play has worked, brilliantly, but it’s Ange himself who has hinted that he might be looking to tweak it and a lot of us have been speculating on what that might mean. There are, I think, two possibilities.
The first is to play two up front. The problem with that is that the midfield has a balance which he might well be reluctant to mess with. There are only two ways of playing a two striker setup with four at the back … there are issues with both.
You can play a straight 4-4-2 but that cuts your central midfield to two players.
The three-man central midfield is now pretty much standard across all of European football, and it’s difficult to see how any club can switch to two in the middle of the pitch and not pay a price for having done so. The exception would be if both were box-to-box players capable of covering every blade of grass on the park … it’s not a system we’ve seen under Ange.
The other system which involves four at the back is to play the 4-3-1-2 … that’s more balanced, but you’re sacrificing your natural wide players and asking the full-backs to do a power of work, and leaves them having to do a lot of tracking back.
The variation of that system is the 4-4-2 diamond where you likewise sacrifice your wide-men, play a central two with another midfielder dropping back to anchor in front of the defence and a fourth in an attacking role behind the strikers. That’s actually close to how we play at the moment, with the two wing-backs battering forward to make crosses.
Which brings us to a more intriguing possibility; the two man up front system with three at the back. We actually do have an option to do that, as Alastair Johnson has talked about having played at central defence. We would lose Greg Taylor in that approach.
We haven’t played a genuine three central defenders system since Martin O’Neill, but it worked for him and it worked well. The 3-5-2 he utilised gave us real firepower up front with Sutton, Hartson and Larsson to pick from and the midfield was anchored brilliantly by the twin engine room players of Lennon and Lambert … and that’s another interesting thing.
If we decide to stick with one up front, could we see a more solid midfield shape in some games? Not a full scale departure from the current setup but a tweaked one, where we play two defensive midfielders – say Iwata and McGregor – instead of just one?
That’s a system we might see trialled in pre-season with a view to next season’s Champions League games, and that would be intriguing to watch. It would also change the games against the club from Ibrox slightly… and to our advantage.
Ange is already talking about the summer window in the sort of language that suggests he’s excited about it. The media, of course, wants to spin this as a negative. The important thing to note is that he talks about improvement; that’s the critical element. That we’re seeking to continually get better, and that his plans will all be geared around that.
But we may be able to recognise future tactical plans in the signings he makes … and the areas of the team where he makes them.
It’s going to be very interesting.