Celtic Vs Atletico Madrid – Tactical Preview

Group leaders Atletico Madrid have travelled to Glasgow ahead of Wednesday’s Europa League crunch match taking star striker Falcao with them. The €40m striker had missed the last two La Ligua matches through injury and may be fit to play.

Sílvio Pereira, Antonion Lopez and Tiago are the other main doubts for the Spaniards.

Celtic will be without Emilio Izaguirre, Mark Wilson, Kelvin Wilson and the cup-tied Badr El Kaddouri, while Scott Brown, Mo Bangura, Cha Du Ri, Ki Sung-Yeung and Kris Commons slowly approach full fitness.

Tictactic looked over Atleti’s 4-1 defeat at the hands of arch-rivals Real Madrid ahead of Wednesday’s match.

Atletico Madrid Lineup

Atleti 4-2-3-1

With Falcao not yet fit, Adrien stood in up front. The remaining side was fairly predictable with Gregorio Manzano opting for his usual 4-2-3-1 / 4-5-1 system.

Diego, stationed ever to slightly to the right dictated much of the attack in the early stages, his vision and timing of passing simply fantastic. The team is setup to give him minimal responsibility (in a defensive sense) allowing him an essentially free role.

The one task he did generally stick to was occupying Xabi Alonso – the Real Madrid regista being an important part of his sides ball retention and distribution and therefore dampening his impact had the effect of dulling Real’s attack.

Real Madrid were cultivating a sour “under siege” atmosphere in typical Jose Mourinho fashion – Di Maria frollicking around brazenly and despicably.

Despite having the unenviable task of standing in for Falcao, Adrien proved his value on the pitch – moving intelligently and holding up the ball well. His overshadowed ability coming to the fore to shock the Bernabeau. Adrien worked a fine one to with Diego (who else) to carve open Real’s seemingly vulnerable left-hand side. The Spanish striker swept the ball beyond Iker Casillas, and underlines how clinical he can operate even under the pressure of the Madrid derby away.

The red-card which changed the game was different to Di Maria’s histrionics in that, Atleti can have no complaints. Karim Benzema latched on to a clever through ball and Thibaut Courtois cleared the Frenchman out. The on-loan Chelsea ‘keeper was dismissed, Cristiano Ronaldo converted the penalty, and the comeback was on.

Diego was the unlikely sacrifice allowing Sergio Asenjo to come on. The decision raised eyebrows given Diego’s maverick influence until that point. It was however the decision that made the most sense, being least disruptive to the team in a defensive sense.

Atleti desperately used the rest of the 1st half to break up play, and Real made the most of every challenge. 3 yellow’s were produced in quick succession – but this wasn’t really Atleti’s foul attitude, it was simply the nature of “breaking up” football combined with the Real play-acting. Such desperation is unlikely to be required at Celtic Park.

Madrid turned the screw but Atleti held firm with admirable organisation until half-time. Adrien toiled in the sole striker — graveyard shift — role up front, constantly trying to bring Arda Turan especially into the game.

The killer goal in the second half was simply the Cristiano Ronaldo effect. Powering into the space between an advanced full-back and centre-back Godin, his cut-back eventually found Di Maria to slot beyond a now crumbled defence.

Post-red, Real remained comfortable enough to slowly turn up the heat. Atleti’s only real change was in-possession making a conscious effort to get the wide forwards closer to the lone striker. But against perhaps the strongest team in Europe at the moment, the ask was too big.

Possible lineup

Given that a win will all but qualify Atleti, it’s doubtful that anything less than a full-strength side will be fielded. It was of course a full-strength side in the first meeting of the campaign so, a similar team to the side that took on Real will be expected. Falcao has made the squad, but whether he will be risked is another matter.

With Eduardo Salvio’s relative lack of impact in the derby, it’s strange that Jose Antonio Reyes – such an influential player – has remained on the bench. Perhaps Wednesday night will be the former £18m Arsenal wonderkid’s chance to stake his claim back in the side.

Celtic decisions

Celtic 4-4-2 / 4-2-2-2

Against St Mirren on Saturday, Celtic put in one of their finest performances of the season. The easiest (and not necessarily incorrect) decision would be to keep the same side – but Neil Lennon will have to consider the following matters:

  • (Stating the obvious) Atleti are on a different attacking level
  • Celtic’s 4-2-2-2 system is very open and attack-minded
  • The (less than) four man midfield, will be coming up against a technically gifted five
  • Atleti’s attack comes through the wingers and Diego. This would normally call for defensively sound wide midfielders and arguably an anchorman.

Also at the back of Lennon’s mind will be the availability of “big-game” players – Charlie Mulgrew, Ki Sung-Yeung and Kris Commons in particular.

The argument therefore is – sticking to the “guns” and playing a very attacking style, or (not for the first time) adopting a more conservative approach for use in Europe.

The possibilities

The possibilities therefore, are intriguing because most will inevitably require the removal of one of the in-form Gary Hooper (who scored a hat-trick on Saturday) or Anthony Stokes.

The least disruptive change would see Lennon trying to tackle a recurring theme in this blog – the number 10 problem. So instead of an out-and-out striker, the player in question will act as more of a link (in possession) between midfield and attack, and out of possession will be an extra body in the midfield. The most natural suspect therefore would be using Ki, as he has already featured in European ties. The other aspect of his game, is that he’s probably the best indirect free-kick taker at the club, with set-pieces of course often the difference in this competition.

Curiously, a change to the system would leave Georgios Samaras less vulnerable to dropping than Stokes or Hooper – strange considering the goals to appearance ratios. But what Samaras offers is top-level experience, bona fide target-man suitability and usefulness defending set-pieces.

Considering how dangerous Atleti are down the flanks, the less defensively sound Samaras might not be the best idea used on the left. Would it be too bold to suggest that Lennon might drop both Stokes and Hooper?

Ledley and Mulgrew

Celtic defensive 4-2-3-1 / 4-5-1

Four or five man-midfield aside, the other main problem is at left-back. Arguably Celtic’s most effective central midfielder – Joe Ledley – has currently been shoe-horned in to the left-back position. If the more natural left-back Charlie Mulgrew was to return to the side, would Ledley be used elsewhere? A slightly far-fetched and defensive solution is shown to the right.

In practice, Lennon’s lineup will likely be a tweaked version of Saturday’s XI. While it’s difficult to imagine one of Stokes or Hooper not being removed in favour of an additional midfielder, it would also make sense for one to start – they are currently the only proven goal-scorers in the side.

On the other hand – Lennon must guard against playing too conservatively. A draw might not be enough for Celtic depending on results elsewhere. Udinese could feasibly end the night 4 (or 5 if Celtic are defeated) points clear. A win however could feasibly see Celtic topping the group with 1 match to play.

While in many ways, with the SPL of such high importance this season, the Europa League is moot; if ever there was a “must-win” time in the 2011-12 competition, it would be Wednesday’s knife-edge scenario.

Predicted lineup:


About tictacticuk

Football fan and commentator of all things Celtic FC.
This entry was posted in Europe, Tactical Preview and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Celtic Vs Atletico Madrid – Tactical Preview

  1. James says:

    Drop Stokes?

    I think that would be a mistake, I’d leave Hooper on the bench to use as an impact sub if needed late on.

  2. Pierso says:


  3. paranoidandroid says:

    i really dont like that 4-2-2-2 formation- especially not when we use four out and out forwards in it. It might work on a good pitch, against inferiour opposition, but it seems to me like an accident waiting to happen. We’ll be overrun against a good team or when the pitches start to cut-up. I think we need at least three midfielders that can track-back, battle, and defend, but Hooper, Stokes, Forest, and Samaras couldn’t make one battling, defensive midfielder between the four of them. I definitely hope he plays ledley.

    • tictacticuk says:

      Thanks once more Mr. Paranoid Android.

      I agree with you in almost every respect. However excellent Sammy has been on the left, his tracking back is the worst of any possible left-midfielder. I do think he’ll play though. The 4-2-2-2 is so, so open.

      Some kind of 5 man midfield would be far preferred. I’d be less worried about Forrest/Sammy on the flanks in that circumstance.


  4. bigskoon says:

    Great, thought-provoking stuff as always bhoys. TTT – I like your ‘defensive’ or ‘far-fetched’ line-up. Try to keep it solid for 65/70, then bring on 2 of Hooper, Stokes & Paddy to create. 1st priority – please don’t shoot ourselves in the foot…or the heid!
    Would love to approach it the same way as St Mirren as that was a jhoy to watch, but just not realistic.
    Mon the hoops – the quadruple’s on 🙂 !!!

  5. @leisciul says:

    Not gonna happen but…
    Hoops n Stokes
    Mulgrew Ki(link up) Kayal Forrest
    Ledley Maj Wany Matthews
    Left well covered with ledley pushing up for five man mid or to cover when Ki moves forward. Kayal if pegged back can provide cover for Forrest going forward.
    Maybe a bit too much attacking but were at home and dammit we want a win as much as they do.
    Also leaves lots of options to rejig players during the game as I think its the subs that will make the difference during this game.
    Hail Hail

  6. The Timmy monster says:

    If Brown plays id like to see this team


    Would like to see brown in there as we would still be strong in the midfield even when he likes to do everyones job and his positioning is erratic. Played well in the couple years back against dinamo moscow

  7. TootingTim says:

    Managed to get along to the Atleti v Celtic game, and one of my abiding memories is of how deep Hooper was in the pockets of their CH’s. He did break the line very early and nearly score, but as the game wore on he got no change from them. They will be pleased to see us line-up with him up-front on his own again.

    P.S. Great blog:))

  8. Pingback: Europa League Match Preview: Celtic v Atletico Madrid | Scotzine

  9. ScottyBhoy says:

    Too many times this season we’ve been outmuscled at the back. I think we need to leave Wanyama at centre half. While imposing physically, his composure makes big Danny look less like a bomb scare waiting to happen. If mulgrew’s fit he plays left back. That allows Ledley back into midfield where his work rate will be needed. I hate the idea of playing only one striker at Celtic park, even though we probably should. Hooper and stokes up front with sami and Forrest wide. Let’s get at them and get intae them Celtic! Hail Hail!!

  10. Moctical says:

    Nice summary on Atletico. They didn’t impress greatly in the away tie but also seemed to be playing in a lower gear for much of the game.

    I think Lennon’s now set on playing 4-2-3-1 against any better teams (which I wholeheartedly support). Our mobility and fluidity has been impressive recently and one of the main reasons the team is coming into form, and having a solid midfield base is essential to allow that so Kayal and Wanyama should be there. I’m also inclined to think he’ll stick with Ledley at left-back with Mulgrew on the bench although the option is there to change that. If Mulgrew does play then Ledley will be on the bench IMO as Kayal and Wanyama already provide enough defensive cover, and Ki or Commons would be preferred to fill the trequartista position. I’d go with Commons (if fit) as Ki hasn’t done great in that role in Europe so far and Commons is coming onto a game now. He also links up very naturally with Hooper, Stokes and Forrest.

    I disagree also with dropping Hooper and Stokes – I think Stokes should play on one side of the mobile supporting forward 3 along with Ki/Commons and Forrest. He does seem to like Samaras in these games though, so he might sit Hooper out or even drop him back to the number 10 role (though this might be an attacking move too far).

  11. Pingback: Celtic 0 – 1 Atletico Madrid: Respectable show spoiled by unlucky goal | TicTacTic

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