Neil Lennon: 14 ways beleaguered Celtic boss can save himself as speculation mounts
Celtic have lost 14 goals in their past six games, the 1-4 to Sparta Prague putting Lennon’s job security in the red zone. Remedial action requires to be immediate and should revolve around the following, argues Andrew Smith ...
1. WIN AT MOTHERWELL
This is absolutely non-negotiable for the Celtic manager with only one victory in six - a sequence that includes their past two Premiership encounters, the loss to Rangers and draw in Aberdeen. Celtic have not failed to win three straight league games in a league campaign since 2012-13. However, such a relatively falow period then was never going to prove costly with no genuine challenger for the title with no Rangers then in the top flight. With Rangers already nine points to the good of their great rivals – having played two games more – any extension to that lead could bring intolerable pressure on a Celtic that daren’t crumble in their all-consuming 10-in-a-row quest.
2. TAKE SHANE DUFFY OUT OF THE FIRING LINE
It is horrible to watch the struggles of the on-loan Brighton centre-back. It is impossible not to feel sorry for a man clearly giving his all, perhaps even trying too hard. There is no question he is putting on the line everything, and it means everything to him (as could not be said with certainty for others) but he is in one of those form pickles where all attempts to do right only seem to bake in more wrongs. An act of mercy is required from Lennon, for both the player, and his own, sake.
3. STOP LOSING GOALS FROM CORNERS/CROSSES INTO THE BOX
Another haphazard slice of defending from a corner provided Sparta’s second on Thursday. This season already, it was the fourth goal Celtic have conceded from a corner, the fifth from a dead ball – the Rangers opener ensuing from a free-kick – and sixth from a cross into the box. Those numbers damn Celtic’s backline organisation and the attendant coaching to deal with such situations. They also tell of the huge miss that a certain currently injury-sidelined centre-back is proving to be …
4. RESTORE CHRISTOPHER JULLIEN AT THE EARLIEST OPPORTUNITY
The Frenchman, indisputably now, is the best centre-back at the club. Indeed, the over-emphasising of flaws in his game previously appears silly when contrasting the goal concession of last season with the two months he has been out with a back complaint. He should be ready for a return post-international break and must then be put straight back in the side.
5. RESTORE CONFIDENCE
Easier said than done, of course, when only results can truly restore the brittle belief that seems to fracture at any on-field setbacks for Celtic right now. Major shareholder Dermot Desmond spoke earlier in the season about hiring a psychologist to help the players deal with European qualifiers. The requirement for such a figure may be right now.
6. SOMEHOW GET LEIGH GRIFFITHS FIT TO PLAY 90 MINUTES
It was lost amid the mayhem, but the mercurial striker’s goal shortly after he was introduced as substitute in the Europa League debacle moved him in to the club’s top 20 all-time scorers and moved him into third on his own as Celtic’s third highest goalscorer in Europe. He is the forward most likely to for the club right now, and needs to be worked over on the training ground to get him into condition to be able to start regularly.
7. GET INTO THE HEAD OF ODSONNE EDOUARD TO RESTORE HIM TO THE LEVEL OF LAST SEASON
Something is amiss psychologically, never mind physically, with Celtic’s prized asset. It has to be impressed on the Frenchman, who clearly hoped he would be experiencing pastures new by now, that if he wants to work his ticket, ‘work’ has to be the operative word. He appears a pale imitation of the dazzling frontman who bagged 28 goals in the last, curtailed, campaign. Find the way to partner him once more with Griffiths, which drew the best from both men in the second half of the march towards the nine.
8. DO SOMETHING ABOUT MOHAMED ELYOUNOUSSI’S CONSISTENCY
The Norwegian attacker seems to veer wildly between devastating bursts of effectiveness and indifferent performances. The on-loan Southampton man is hardly alone in seeming unable to produce with regularity at Celtic right now, but his footballing mood swings are frustrating nonetheless. Perhaps Celtic should put an app on his phone that sets out the steps required to stay ‘in the zone’ ...
9. RECAST THE ENGINE ROOM
It might have once seemed sacrilegious to suggest that the deep-lying two of Callum McGregor and Scott Brown just isn’t offering enough protection to a marshmallow-soft backline. It would be bold to replace both, but Lennon needs to be both bold and ruthless to remain in place. Neither man seems at one with their game, a certain weariness betrayable in both that is proving a huge issue for the cohesiveness of the Celtic team. Ismaila Soro and Nir Bitton could be considered for such berths. Desperate times demand desperate measures for Lennon.
10. STEP UP THE INTEGRATION OF DAVID TURNBULL
This might be related to no.7, but the £3.25m summer signing from Motherwell must be given the opportunity to make an impression. One start in two months – however indifferent he was away to St Johnstone at the beginning of October – isn’t sufficient to allow a prodigious talent to do that. He has endowments that could help Lennon in the here and now, especially in domestic encounters.
11. REST JEREMIE FRIMPONG
It can be forgotten that the Dutch born right-back is only 19 and has been playing senior football for barely 14 months. He appears betwixt and between about marrying his attacking instincts to defensive duties. Celtic’s need for solidity at the back, and within a flat four, would be better served with the more naturally cautious Hatem Abd Elhamed on the right side of defence.
12. REVERT TO VASILIS BARKAS
Scott Bain may have made some decent saves last night, but he also demonstrated an unorthodox approach to certain aspects of goalkeeping that fail to inspire confidence. Of course, Barkas did the same, but having paid £4.5m to AEK Athens for a player with pedigree only in August, Lennon requires to show him some TLC and give him the opportunity to come good. The situation is a bit damned if he does, damned if he does, mind you, when a manager’s two senior keepers are failing to offer presence or command.
13. TRY OUT A MORE PRAGMATIC APPROACH IN THE NEXT THREE EUROPA LEAGUE GAMES
With one point from a possible nine from Group H, Celtic can forget about qualification. As much as they would like to no doubt, they cannot forget about the final three fixtures in the section, though. Further heavy beatings will damaging morale for domestic duties, so Lennon should look to configure his team to save some sort of face in the trip away to Prague later this month, before the jaunt to Milan and the closer at home to Lille in early December.
14. MAKE PLANS FOR EMERGENCY SIGNINGS IN THE JANUARY WINDOW
Celtic will only have one shot at the storied ten, and must be willing to drain their finances to reel it in across the second half of the season. Even in this Covid-19 bank balance-wrecking age. As much as the club’s support might not want to hear it, their board have pushed the boat out with a near £30m net spend on new arrivals over the past year-and-a-half. Unfortunately few acquisitions have been unqualified successes … though each new purchase over the summer was fully endorsed by a faithful flogging these same players now.
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