The end of August saw a particularly satisfying conclusion to this summer’s transfer window, with Neil Lennon able to address key problem areas within his squad. A 3rd goalkeeper in Slovakian Lubos Kamenar, another centre-back, as Lennon describes “in the Wanyama mould” in the Nigerian Efe Ambrose, and two more attackers: Nicolas “Miku” Fedor and Lassad Nouioui.
With the disappointing Mo Bangura and Daryl Murphy departing to AIK Solna and Ipswich respectively on loan, Celtic had only 2 bona fide senior strikers to choose from: Gary Hooper and Anthony Stokes. Tony Watt’s precocious development continues well, and while other attackers, like Georgios Samaras, Kris Commons and James Forrest, provide varying levels of backup, they remain primarily midfielders.
Hooper, is undoubtedly Lennon’s first-choice, with a record over two signings to justify that faith. Yet he, and particularly Stokes, have proven difficult to confidently shape a side around. Neither can really play as a targetman (a recurring theme in this blog), and are both so similar in style that domestic sides are becoming accustomed. Play deep, tackle hard and drop anchoring midfielders back into the congestion.
So Miku and Lassad (as they are referred as) provide welcome alternatives to the short, classic poacher type tendencies that have come to typify Hooper and Stokes.
Nicolas ‘Miku’ Fedor
Leading the line against Real Madrid, the first thing that strikes you about Miku’s place in the Getafe team, is that he isn’t a traditional target-man, despite playing in the lone role. He isn’t imposing (enough) in the air and is too lean to really rough up opposition defenders. But then, this wasn’t his role. With Mourinho’s high line, Miku was asked to play off the shoulder and to attack the channels on the counter, splitting defenders and opening space for the attacking midfield band of three to exploit.
Of course he still had to maintain target-man type duties: that is to attempt to win anything thrown his way, hold up the ball easing pressure on the defence and midfield, and lay the ball off intelligently.
While Miku is strong and fast, he lacks the sheer power of a Chris Sutton type striker, or galloping pace of someone like Georgios Samaras. Instead he brings all the attributes together in a typically Latin package, focusing on technique, movement but most of all sharp finishing. His 12 league goals last term in La Liga were typified by finishing with minimal touches and maximum power.
This all round ability, and crucially contrast in style with Gary Hooper, is what caught the attention of Neil Lennon: “he’s a player we like but didn’t think we could get but his name came up again three or four days ago. He has a good goalscoring record for a mid-range team in La Liga and I think he will complement Hooper very well.”
The implication then, is a continuation of 4-4-2 (or 4-2-2-2) that has regularly been a go-to comfortable formation. But clearly (and reportedly), Miku would be able to do a Samaras-type inside-forward job on one of the flanks if required.
If Miku is the more mobile alternative to Celtic’s current Hooper/Stokes type striker, then Lassad Nouioui takes steps in the other direction. That’s not to say that the free signing from Deportivo La Coruna is immobile – but his qualities undoubtedly lend towards the targetman stereotype. With the failure of Daryl Murphy to assert himself and Samaras’ preference for the left-wing, Celtic have been lacking such an option since Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink.
This is largely down to the global scarcity in quality target-men, which is reflected, not only in Hesselink’s price (a hefty £3.4m) but also the premiums paid in England, most notably in Andy Carroll and Steven Fletcher. Lennon was cryptic in unveiling Lassad, saying it was somebody “you will not have heard of”, which hints at the extent you have to search for a quality targetman.
‘He is six foot two, he leads the line very well, he can play inside or outside the box and he can head it very well. We have liked him for a wee while. I know most of his goals have come in the Second Division in Spain but it is still a good standard’
Such qualities were demonstrated in Deportivo’s second in the noted match from April. First, in beating two defenders to knock down the ball to local legend Juan Carlos Valerón, but then in anticipating the pass, and then in beating the offside line and slotting the ball clinically past Yoel Rodriguez in goal.
It was a precise finish into the near corner, but it’s Lassad’s workrate throughout the match that would have impressed his new employers. Constantly embroiled in aerial duels with the Celta defence, constantly looking to knock the ball down to that famous trequartista Valerón.
Stocky, and 6’2″, Lennon will therefore be eyeing up the opportunity of finally utilising a non-two striker system for tougher European purposes. Using a lone striker has recently been the most efficient way of fitting a number ten into the side, and with Kris Commons currently Celtic’s most productive attack (and to an extent James Forrest waiting quite literally in the wings) Lassad brings a whole other dimension to the team.
In the tictactic pre-season summary, it was suggested that a targetman is Celtic’s transfer window priority. In capturing two very different types of lone forward, Lennon now has the options that he previously so craved.