There are really big questions for Neil Lennon after Old Firm’s bitter defeat on Saturday. And the Celtic manager has to come up with the answers.
Losing, and in such a meek way, will be alarming to Celtic and the manager has to do something to make his team shoot. Whether that gets stuck or twists with the 3-5-2, he has to find a solution.
A historic 10-in-a-row is at stake, but somehow it all went flat at Celtic.
‘Lennon has no answer to Gerrard’s setup’
Like the previous two Old Firm games, Rangers dominated with and without possession. Steven Gerrard’s squad was able to execute their game plan and control Celtic’s play.
But this is not new. Celtic have never been able to find a rhythm in the last three derbies, mainly due to the way their rivals act.
Their shape and formation is a well-oiled machine, and they all know what they’re doing, and Celtic just doesn’t have the answers. Not really.
I don’t see how Lennon thinks the 3-5-2 formation is the answer to go against this Rangers side – the result on Saturday was predictable.
‘Everyone could see that the form was not working’
Rangers have a real cluster of players in the center of the field, with their two inverted wingers and two offensive fullbacks. And with Steven Davis anchoring the midfield, they have a really good balance.
If you’re going to try to get them into trouble, get on their defenders. You need width and must be high on the field.
If you go with a 3-5-2, you add another central defender. But for what? I find it amazing that Lennon waited until the 84th minute to change the form.
Why? What did he expect to happen with six minutes to go? Was that he admitted it didn’t work? Because everyone recognized that the form was not working after 10 minutes.
I don’t see how Celtic’s attacking, creative players fit into that system. In fact, two creative players have been traded for a fullback and a center-back.
Celtic did not have to do that. They tried to change something, but in doing so they lost the identity of what they are trying to achieve.
They lack a bit of dynamism in the team as a whole. They lack drive, energy and pace. They’ve moved into a 3-5-2 formation that relies so heavily on fullbacks. Jeremie Frimpong gives you that, but other than that where is the running force on that team?
Lennon previously said how great and brilliant his team has played, but the reality is they aren’t.
‘The challenge for Rangers now is consistency’
Credit must go to Rangers. They forced Celtic to play in the center of the park, keep them in a defensive area, cut off all their lines of attack and narrow the field. And Celtic played into their hands.
Gerrard’s silk is in a very good place, they are in a rhythm and a shape. They’ve been working on this for a number of years and you can tell they look comfortable. The challenge now is to make sure they maintain that consistency.
Saturday’s victory leaves them four points free. And with Celtic playing in the Scottish Cup early next month, Rangers have a good chance of getting points on the board, opening a bigger gap and creating a mindset where they feel comfortable at the top.
That will put the pressure on Celtic as there is a possibility that when the second Old Firm match comes, Rangers could be significantly ahead with the opportunity to expand even further.
They will believe they can. It’s a very good position for them to sit in with Celtic answering all questions.
Michael Stewart spoke to BBC Sport Scotland’s Nick McPheat
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