For the last couple of days, I’ve been thinking, and writing on the blog, about Sun Tzu’s The Art Of War. When I read Callum McGregor’s comments about our “preparations being ready” my belief that we would win yesterday hardened into certainty. I slept like a baby on Saturday night, which is rare for me before a big game. I had no doubts.
I wondered if we would go for Shock & Awe.
It’s a strategy preached by the great general. But it overlooks another of his teachings, and it’s the one that has proved the most effective. In watching the game, it was clear what all the preparation had led to.
Our team functions as a single, perfect unit now. Ange has drilled this team like nothing we’ve ever watched. There will be some complaints that the performance was not exactly dazzling, but that rather depends on how you watched it.
Because the machine worked perfectly yesterday. It worked the way it was designed to. Ange gets a lot of credit for building an attacking juggernaut. He does not get enough for instilling other disciplines in this side as well. Hard work is a key reason we won yesterday and a key reason why we just keep on winning, game after game.
But Sun Tzu said it best; “The possibility of victory is in the attack. But invincibility lies in the defence.”
He could have been talking about our team.
Because if the opposition literally cannot score on you then you have, in a sense, become invincible.
Yesterday they fielded their best attacking footballers, and we rendered them irrelevant. Once you do that to an opponent, once your blunt their swords or plug their guns, once you make their attacking plays exercises in futility you sap their morale and leave them vulnerable to the sucker punch. We duly delivered on both fronts.
The midfield was exceptional. The defence was so good that it was outrageous. The more I watch Cameron Carter Vickers the more convinced I am that he’s the best centre back to play for this club in a long, long time. People will talk about Virgil Van Dijk for years, but he was a cultured footballer who you could tell was going to go far. Carter Vickers is a warrior, an old school centre back whose first function is simply stopping opposing attacks.
He was magnificent. He might well be Ange’s most important signing, and what he does is, in its own way, every bit as crucial and sexy and thrilling as Kyogo and Jota and others deliver at their end of the pitch.
The same goes for his partner in crime Starfelt, one of the most consistent players at Celtic Park, and still being underestimated in a big way.
That was a complete triumph yesterday, a tactical masterclass from Ange and the proof that the man is following a strategy which does not simply depend on superior firepower.
It may not have delivered a bucket-load of goals or even chances … but that’s rather the point. We built a wall that they found impossible to penetrate … and seized our moment when it came.
The talk over there now is of a “complete rebuild.” The Mooch has thrown to the wolves some of the players who next season he’ll be depending on. He’s in real trouble.
Ange in the meantime marches bravely forward.
The promise of this man’s appointment is about to be fulfilled in a big way. When he said the second season would be better than the first, with the first having already delivered a double, he was not kidding.