Back to back home defeats have left Celtic in need of a confidence building win this weekend. What you’d give for a home tie against Hamilton rather than a trip to face a bang in form Aberdeen team in such circumstances, still it’s the hand the Celts have been dealt and we’ll need to get on with it.
So, what of the opposition for Sunday’s High Noon meeting with The Dons? Well alongside Hibs they are the form side outside the two Glasgow clubs. Since losing to theRangers on the opening day of the season Aberdeen have recorded seven wins one draw and a solitary 3-0 reverse to Motherwell, a game that had the excuse of a European excursion prior to the loss.
Last season Derek McInnes was facing real pressure for the first time in his spell as manager. The defensive performances seemed more designed to avoiding defeat than winning games and the propensity to score and then defend the lead, be that for five minutes or 85, had Aberdeen fans pulling their hair out.
This season the performances and the football seem to have improved and with-it Aberdeen now find themselves on Celtic’s coattails, only three points behind the Hoops and with eyes on closing the gap. Yet has there really been an improvement and has McInnes really changed all that much?
How they line up
I’m not sure he has. Aberdeen are still a cautious side, they play three at the back in what appears a 3-4-1-2 formation and at present Hoban, Considine and Taylor fill the slots.
Sitting in front of the defence are two players industrious in nature in Lewis Ferguson and new signing Ross McCrorie, while the wing backs are ex Celt Jonny Hayes (a doubt for Sunday) and the right wing back has switched between Ryan Hedges in midweek against Hamilton, Niall McGinn and last weekend Connor McLennan. There is creativity in the team but it is certainly limited and predominately surrounded by running power, height and brute strength.
Up front they have the loan signing of Marley Watkins, a good striker on his day but one who has managed only two goals in eleven games, supported with some creativity at least by Scott Wright in the advanced midfield role.
Ryan Edmondson partnered Watkins in the midweek 4-2 win against Accies but he’s a doubt after picking up an injury in that game. It is worth noting that long-term absentee and star man Sam Cosgrove returned to the substitute’s bench in midweek and could therefore be close to a return to the starting line-up. He’s certainly a player that has caused the Celtic defence some trouble and much bruising when he’s faced the Hoops before.
The Dons recent form
While the table shows a team in form it is worth pointing out that of those seven wins from an opening day defeat, five of them have come by a solitary goal. That gives the impression the Aberdeen of last season is still bubbling under the surface.
It was certainly a surprise to see Aberdeen score four in midweek, very much at odds with performances this season, but also alien was the fact Accies bounced back and rocked the Dons with two goals to make a game of it when the tie looked dead. Hope then that Celtic with some attacking intent can make inroads into a red defensive wall.
In the Dons last five games Aberdeen have lost 3-0 to Motherwell, won by the same scoreline against Ross County, won 2-1 against St Mirren, drawn 0-0 against Dundee United in last weeks’ derby before winning their re-arranged fixture with Accies 4-2 in midweek. It looks like the consistency is starting to fray, as such if Celtic take the game to and get some creativity in our line-up, we can get Aberdeen pinned back.
One to watch
If Ryan Hedges plays it could be anywhere from left wing back to supporting striker, yet wherever he is employed he’s a player Celtic need to be mindful of. Alongside Scott Wright he is the Dons only real creativity in open play, but it’s from set pieces where he could hurt Celtic.
Aberdeen will attempt to get forward only on the counter attack but they’ll also be looking to buy fouls around an inside the area. While Lewis Ferguson has changed his surname to a double-barrelled replacement – Ferguson-Pen, Hedges is he man who will deliver the set pieces if Celtic concede needless free-kicks, something we’ve not only been doing of late but also seem at odds with when it comes to defending.
Keeping Ryan Hedges quiet will go a long way to winning on Sunday and to blunt his impact Celtic need to be disciplined when it comes to conceding fouls around the box.
One to target
The loss of Scott McKenna in the transfer window has seen the Dons employ Tommie Hoban in defence. With Andrew Considine playing on the left of a back three and Hoban or Ash Taylor operating on the right, there is a distinct lack of pace with all three defenders, Hoban in particular is the weak link. If Celtic adopt a 4-2-3-1 formation and Aberdeen persist with their back three, there will be gaps behind the wing backs that Celtic can not only exploit but double up on, with Frimpong and Christie on one side and Laxal and Elyounoussi on the other. If that draws the likes of Hoban and Considine out to help the exposed wing backs there will be space for Ajeti and (hopefully) a Tom Rogic in a number 10 role where Celtic can find space to fashion opportunities.
Change it up
Sunday’s encounter will be tough, it will be bruising and Aberdeen will sit in. Their strength is the two players sitting in front of their defence. Both Lewis Ferguson and Ross McCrorie are good players but predominately defensively minded. They can run and tackle all day.
As such it’s important for Celtic to get someone up against them that can test their abilities and pin them back, away from supporting their wing backs defensively. Tom Rogic can be that man. With support on either flank from Christie and Elyounoussi cutting inside and Callum McGregor supporting from behind, a 4-2-3-1 formation and the right personnel employed, can be the winning of this game, a win that would get Celtic’s season back on track.
To continue with a 3-5-2 would play into Aberdeen’s hands, congest the midfield and slow the game down. Aberdeen will then play for niggly fouls and free kicks around the box. From there their height and strength can cause us problems. Celtic need to ensure we give Aberdeen all the thinking, all the chasing to do and force them on to the back foot from the start. Who draws first blood in this encounter could be crucial. If that’s to be Celtic we need to be creative from the start, fashion space in wide areas and force Aberdeen’s players to vacate their positions.
A 4-2-3-1 formation could be the way to do it and the creativity of Tom Rogic from the start will be the key that can unlock a stubborn defence. Score first and early and Celtic win this game. To do that we’ll need to change something that has seen the Celts draw the first half in five of our last seven away games, against sides in the top five of the Scottish Premiership. It seems teams know what to expect. It’s time to give them something unexpected to think about. Unleashing Tom Rogic and a 4-2-3-1 formation could do just that.