Commons rise poses questions for Helsinki

It would be imprecise to write-off Celtic’s 1-0 win over Aberdeen, as some newspapers have, as a mere result of Jamie Langfield’s 79th minute howler. While the ‘keeper had pathetically failed to keep out Kris Common’s shot worked from a short corner, such a view belies the comfort and dominance that was displayed over arguably Celtic’s sternest title rivals.

It is though, fair to say that not enough chances were produced from either side, with the often razor sharp combination of Gary Hooper and Anthony Stokes particularly guilty of failing to enliven the dull season opener.

Aberdeen 4-1-4-1 transitioning to 4-4-2 in the attack

This feature of the match was no coincidence given Craig Brown’s tactics; a manager with a rich history in attempting to shut down more technically proficient sides.

Since returning to the SPL from his coaching hiatus, his tactics can be summarised as a tug-of-war between 4-4-2 and 4-5-1. Torn between the defensive stability of 4-5-1 and the attacking potential of using two strikers, Brown has recently devised an interesting compromise, with one of the wide midfielders pushing to become a striker in possession, while crucially scuttling back when possession is relinquished to maintain the security of a five-man midfield.

So often over the past 2 seasons, a sitting midfielder has demonstrated the dual function of neutralising Stokes and Hooper’s ability to drop into deeper areas, while preserving a man advantage in the centre of the park.

Celtic’s shape

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

It didn’t help then, that both Georgios Samaras and Commons are essentially two different forms of ‘inverted’ wingers with both adding to the central congestion. Commons is a more traditional number 10 creator, while Samaras bases his game on speed and athleticism.

Governed by injuries perhaps, (and suspensions in Charlie Mulgrew’s case)  it was a return to the 4-2-2-2 that has both frustrated and delighted over recent campaigns.

The attacking width to the by-line would normally be provided by the full-backs, but here Emilio Izaguirre and Adam Matthews were both kept at bay by Aberdeen’s counter-attacking wingers.

But the worst stifling was reserved for the centre of the pitch, and in another recent trait of a Craig Brown side, the line between ‘physical’ and ‘dangerous’ was continually challenged. Samaras was kicked (accidentally) in the face drawing blood, and Beram Kayal was lucky to survive a brutal lunge. Calum Murray was certainly lenient with the cards, contributing to a stop-start match high on physical contests and low in possession.

Like HJK last week, this is part and parcel of the textbook travelling to play a difficult, ball-playing favourite. Physically push the boundaries, defend sensibly in numbers, and try and sneak something on the counter. Aberdeen’s weapon here was the use of the pacy former Celt Niall McGinn, who acted as Brown’s “compromise” between 4-5-1 and 4-4-2, playing as a sort of semi-striker.

McGinn also at times was instructed to swap places with lone striker Scott Vernon, normally in an attempt to take advantage running onto the ball over the top – an area of the game that both Rogne and Wanyama continue to struggle with chasing back.

While HJK were rewarded with quite a fortunate goal, Aberdeen’s never arrived with the best case scenario then turning to keeping a clean sheet.

The Kris Commons effect

10 Celtic players plus substitutes continued to look non-threatening, with Lennon gradually introducing the 4-4-2 diamond, in part to maximise the use of the exception – moving Commons in behind the two strikers.

As deserved it may of been, he was of course fortunate to get the goal, but his good performance poses questions to the manager ahead of the Helsinki trip. What use is (one of) Hooper or Stokes if neither at this moment provide a fraction of Commons’ goal-threat and scheming?

One quiet game against Aberdeen doesn’t change either of Hooper or Stokes’ talent, but the dampening of the ‘Stooper’ partnership has come all too easy in the past. And most foreboding of all, comes at a time of transition to a non-4-4-2 formation. Commons could well have played his way into Stokes’ number 10 shirt for the match against HJK.

The Finns will surely lineup similar to the 4-4-1-1 that brought reasonable success in the first leg, and for various reasons Celtic’s formation should match. The temptation for Lennon will be to make use of a more traditional style targetman, like Samaras or Daryl Murphy, but having scored in the first-leg Hooper should keep his place.

While Lennon’s use of two ball playing centre-backs in the first leg hints at a new strategy of breaking down deep defences, given Wanyama’s struggling in the first-leg and Thomas Rogne’s more straightforward nature, the Norwegian should start.

The borderline availability of James Forrest and Scott Brown again makes predicting the lineup difficult, but the short-distance acceleration of the former will be sorely missed on the right-hand side should he not make it. And if not Forrest on the right, Commons could continue there opening the door for Stokes after all. Finally, as much as a headache it is for Lennon to fit Commons best into the starting eleven, on current form the consolation is that HJK’s Antti Muurinen has to find a way to deal with him.




About tictacticuk

Football fan and commentator of all things Celtic FC.
This entry was posted in 2012/13, Aberdeen, Tactical Preview and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Commons rise poses questions for Helsinki

  1. clonesbhoy7 says:

    Interesting comment but I see things differently. NL is trying to put what he things are his best 11 players on the park without coming up with the right shape, system or tactics to suit those players. There is absolutely no width in the team and play is so slow and pedantic then any side can easily get lots of players behind the ball.
    Commons and Hooper are 2 of the laziest players I have seen. Did Hooper do anything meaningful on Saturday? Commons only wants the ball at his feet and then just play passes or have a shot. His best position is that dreaded ‘in the hole’; or as I call it the lazy number 10.
    Tomorrow night is a big night for NL. He had 2 excellent away results last season in Europa but his CV is tarnished by some European nightmares.
    It will be a nervy 90 mins; maybe 120 mins. Let’s be positive and finish a job that should have been completed last week. HH.

  2. ruggygman says:

    Regardless of injuries, i just see no way on earth he will ever play stokes and hooper up front, away from home in europe… ideally for me (depending on player availability)

    Matthews Rogne Wanyama Mulgrew

    Brown Kayal Ledley
    Commons Samaras


    4,5,1 IN THE MAIN, but depending on where the play is flowing, commons becomes supporting stiker, or similarly samaras….. as ive said before, 4,5,1, can develop into 4,4,2, or 4,3,3 depending on the movement of players and how the shape evolves… Drop Izzy, until he starts showing a bit more.. Mulgrew will put in good delivery from left…… Midfield 3 will offer industrious, solid platform…. Attacking 3 capable of goals, certainly hooper and commons

  3. bigskoon says:

    Struggling to disagree with you ruggyman – I wish I could say that Izzy has been good, but has got nowhere near the form of 16 months ago. Lenny’s deilemma must be that he knows Izzy needs games to get back to that form…so what does he do in the meantime?
    I’d go 4-5-1 as well – and agree with your point that this can be flexible, but for me:
    Matthews, Rogne, Charlie, Izzy
    Commons, Brown, Wanyama, Ledley, Sami

    Forrest has huge potential, but his final ball is too often poor, and Commons is our main creative force at the moment.
    Hail Hail. Get the win, cash in on Ki, buy a centre back & striker. Win the treble 🙂

  4. stubhoy says:

    Disagree with the 2 of yous ironically.
    I would drop hoops for the first half and use sammy as a lone striker with 4 in mid 1 behind and a back 4 team

    matthews rogne wanyama izzy
    forrest brown ledley commons


  5. bigskoon says:

    Not a bad shout having Sami up front Stubhoy…allows Forrest back in too….but no Charlie? Maybe swap Kayal for Big Vic and stick Charlie in with Rogne?
    Nice to be talking about football unlike Charlie Green – still haven’t worked out this guy’s motives!

  6. gerry says:

    The biggest problem will be, as usual, at the back. We’ve only played two games and we’ve already used four different central defenders. Lennon needs to select his preferred two and stick with them for the season.

    As for tonights game, I quite like the idea of big samantha up front himself with commons in behind in a 4411. Or going with the kind of broken 4321 we used away against udinese. Tho there was no commons that night and we played hooper up top with samantha and forrest behind him

    • tictacticuk says:

      Lot’s of interesting comments, think we’re all agreeing that ‘Stooper’ isn’t working right now. Last season it would’ve been a struggle to get anyone to say a bad word about it, such was the popularity.

      Could be seen as fairly negative, but I doubt there’d be anything wrong with a form of 4-5-1, like Gerry says with Samaras lone striker, hitting on the break. There’s no urgency to press the game, all we need is a goal to put things extraordinarily in our favour (can’t see HJK getting 2!). Of course Lennon likes to cause surprise, and might hit us with even a 3-5-2 with Mulgrew/Vic either side of Rogne, which even makes for a 5-3-2 without the ball (and has been used in Europe in past)

      The 3-5-2 took a battering against Ajax though, knocking Lenny’s confidence in it.

      P.s. don’t agree too strongly with criticism of Izaguirre. Sure he’s not reached last season’s heights but is working really well with Samaras on the left. Must be a nightmare to face up to – no defender wants that kind of pace and directness constantly down the left….

  7. Craig McKee says:

    I don’t envy Lenny in having to call this one as the comments above show, there are good arguments for and against 4-4-2, 4-5-1 & 4-1-4-1.

    4-5-1 would be my preferred formation If we had a striker capable of playing on his own but I don’t think we do. Samaras isn’t a striker, never has been never will be. He is a dangerous wide attacker and both Celtic and Gorgeous have suffered for previous managers refusing to play him in his natural position, wide left of a 5 man midfield. Saturday showed that if you play him wide left of a 4-4-2 midfield the center 2 get swamped in a similar way when Strachan would play 2 wingers in a 4-4-2 against a 5 man midfield.

    4-4-2 on Sat reminded of one of those Fusball games where the players have a rod that goes through connecting them together into one straight line. No depth or penetration and managing that trick of being poor defensively (midfield specifically) and poor offensively and completely wasting Common creative spark on the right of midfield.

    Lastly, if w do play 2 strikers tonight, Murphy must partner Hooper. Didn’t think i’d be writing that anytime soon but Stokes performance against Aberdeen was one of the most infuriating I can remember, he just stopped trying. Murphy is poor but i’d rather have a poor attempt playing than a poor huff.

  8. Pingback: HJK 0 – 2 Celtic: Patience rewarded with big away win | TicTacTic

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