Another weekend, another eventful game for Celtic. This time the opponents were relegation battling Livingston. On paper this not only represented a chance at revenge after losing at the Tony Macaroni earlier in the season, it gave Celtic a chance to reclaim top spot in the league. With Ange Postecoglou’s men being in good form, having come through some difficult away fixtures, most fans would have hoped for a comfortable win and some post match celebrations. However, anyone who knows the clubs recent record against Livi would have known better. In recent seasons they have become something of a ‘bogey team’ for the Glasgow giants. This proved sadly prophetic once again as Celtic dropped another two points in the title race following a 0-0 draw at Parkhead.
The manager spoke after the game and seemed as infuriated as the support. Looking at his comments in depth will provide a view on the state of play at Celtic at the moment. Some fans are claiming Postecoglou is naive and has no ‘plan B’. Some feel the players should be taking more responsibility. The truth will be somewhere in between.
“It was one of those days in football when you know you have to get a goal to open them up a bit. We had those chances but didn’t get the goal we needed.’’
Chances not being taken is not something any manager can control. With all the preparation in the world, it’s impossible to prepare for a striker missing a sitter, a midfielder having a bad game or a defender giving a penalty away. The word ‘frustration’ surely sums up the mood of Celtic fans after drawing a blank against Livingston, especially given a win would have taken the team to the summit of the league. That frustration must be felt by the manager also. Not only was his team facing an opponent who had no intention to play football, but his players, when presented with the opportunity, fluffed their lines. It wasn’t Postecoglou who missed the penalty after all.
“I think we created enough opportunities to win that game. If we won that game we’d be talking about a whole different thing.’’
With a staggering 85% possession and 90% passing accuracy you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a totally dominant performance by Celtic. Factor in that the team won c.80% tackles and 70% aerial duels and there can be little doubt that the men in hoops were in total control and little danger. Despite these impressive stats, Celtic managed only 16 shots in total and only 2 on target. Therein lies the problem. When a team comes to Celtic Park determined to play ‘anti-football’ or, as some pundits described, and excellent defensive display, Postecoglou’s men need to be ruthless and clinical. On Saturday that was not the case, not even with the aid of a last minute penalty. If that goal had gone in, the optics of the game may have been different. ‘Celtic overcome stubborn Livi’ would probably have been the headline. Instead, ‘Celtic fire blanks and miss opportunity to go top’ is both damning and accurate.
“We moved the ball well, they had 11 players sitting so deep and we had to find a way through. We found a way through but couldn’t put the ball in the net.’’
Celtic’s style under Postecoglou seems to be decisive amongst some sections of the support. When Ange had said he would change his system, that translated, to some less informed fans, as ‘I only know one way to win a game, I’ve no plan B’. What he meant was that he would always want his teams to attack and play exciting football. That’s how he wants to win games. When Celtic drew a blank against Livingston people used the ‘system’ as a means to critique the game. If an all attack display can’t break the deadlock, would playing more conservatively have worked? Of course not. To further refute this particular criticism, midway through the game Celtic switched to a 4-4-2 and went far more direct with crossing and pressure. Some might say that’s a plan B if the possession game isn’t working. Ultimately, the tactics and system (which are different) rely on players executing them.
“It was my decision to have Giakoumakis on penalties. I made that decision a couple of games ago. He wasn’t on the pitch when we got the last one so Juranovic took it. He was on the pitch so he was the designated taker today.’’
Where Postecoglou does come under the spotlight is both team selection and his decision to change the penalty taker. Given the manager himself said that the previous game against Hibs was the best performance his team had produced this season, it was strange to see top scorer, and talisman, Kyogo Furahashi dropped to the bench. The return of Abada, who’s form has been inconsistent, in place of Mikey Johnson was also curious, if at least more palatable. Perhaps Ange felt that Giakoumakis would offer a stronger physical threat against a stubborn Livingston defence, but rotation for rotation sake isn’t something that suits a squad who are both learning the system, getting to know each other and finally finding some form. Given Juranovic has taken the past few penalties, converting all, it was another strange decision to remove him from penalty duties.
The fact remains, regardless who played, any Celtic team should have enough to win against a lower table SPFL team. Was it the managers fault or the players letting the side down? It seems on balance that it’s a mixture of both. One thing is for certain, Celtic need to stay in touch at the top of the table and strengthen in January, otherwise frustrating results will quickly become a crisis in the eyes of some less patient supporters.