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
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.
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.
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 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
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.