Celtic FC Women – Elena Sadiku System Analysis

The new head coach of Celtic FC Women, Elena Sadiku, hasn’t had the start to life at Glasgow that many of us imagined for her. With two losses in the two games that she has been in the dugout, it is clear that it could take some time for the players to get used to the new style she is bringing to the team.

With many of our standout performers being asked to play slightly different roles under Elena, it’s time we take an in-depth look at what exactly we’re seeing on the pitch, and at what is going wrong…


Defensive formation

Elena sets her Celtic side up with four players in the back line, a big change from what we saw Fran Alonso doing. Under Fran, we’d usually see Caitlin Hayes, Kelly Clark, and Sydney Cummings or Chloe Craig taking the role of central defenders. Wingers would drop into the defensive line when we were out of possession, acting as wing-backs to assist with the defence.

Celya Barclais

Now, we’re seeing Clark and Hayes partnered in central defence as usual, but Chloe Craig has been pushed out as a left-back, with Celya Barclais becoming a key player in the squad at right-back.

Our midfielders, Colette Cavanagh and Natalie Ross, will drop deep to assist with the defence. Cavanagh tends to stay further up the pitch while Ross gets closer to the back line. Our two wingers and dedicated striker stay forward at all times to allow us to counterattack as soon as we win possession.

Amy Gallacher

The big change is Gallacher dropping into a midfield role when we are having to defend. The Scotland international, who has been utilised as a striker for the majority of the season, has more defensive duties under Elena and is always getting herself in the right position to receive passes.

Attacking formation

When we are in possession and moving into the opponent’s half, Gallacher moves back into the position we’re used to seeing her in. Leading the line next to Tash Flint.

Our midfielders move higher up the pitch, with Cavanagh being a creative star in the team, regularly laying off accurate passes to our wingers. Due to our high back line, if we are being pressed too much, our midfielders also have the option to pass back to our defenders.

Colette Cavanagh

If we are having no luck with two strikers, Gallacher will drop down to her new attacking midfielder role. This allows her to create passing triangles between herself, midfield, and the wingers, whilst also giving her the option to play forward passes to Flint if she sees an opportunity.

Swapping positions

We are seeing players swap positions more, which could work well in favour if done right. As shown in the picture, Gallacher dropped deep to take Cavanagh’s position in midfield, while Cavanagh moved higher up the pitch into Gallacher’s role. This gives us safety if we were to lose possession, as if these two players hadn’t swapped roles, we would’ve been vulnerable to a counterattack on our left-hand side due to Cavanagh being out-of-position.

The new formation is looking very promising. As soon as the finer details are ironed out, Elena could be onto something very good.

The Goal – What Went Wrong?

None of us expected to concede as early as we did against Glasgow City, but we can’t change the past, only improve for the future. From kick-off, City played the ball to their back line and one of their defenders sent a fantastic through ball right through our entire team.

Glasgow City through ball

Flint failed to take the ball from the defender that made the pass. The ball flew over Ross, leaving her helpless as she watched it go past her. Still though, both Hayes and Barclais should’ve done better to prevent this ball going right through the middle of them. The ball bounces near Barclais and she doesn’t manage to intercept it. She is left trailing as Fiona Brown breaks away.

Barclais notices that Hayes is moving towards Brown, so she takes the role of central defender as Hayes moves out wide.

City’s goal – Celtic’s marking

Brown scans our box and may notice the gap left between Barclais and Clark. She can see a City player making a run, but she almost certainly notices that Kelsey Daugherty is off her line. I don’t know whether she intended to score, or if her cross was meant for either Emily Whelan or Kinga Kozak, but she had to have known that we had presented City with a fantastic early chance before she let the ball go.

Caitlin Hayes

Hayes tracks the run of Brown but after the forward does a scan, surely it should be clear that she is about to pass the ball. With the position Hayes found herself in, there was no way she was going to block a pass or a cross, so you’d think the next best option would be trying to shut her down and steal the ball before she can make a play. Instead, Hayes moves slightly towards her own goal, giving Brown even more space in a good position.

Pace is a serious problem in our back line, and that has been highlighted in these two games against Rangers and Glasgow City. Although we can win in high-scoring fashion week in week out, we’re being exploited when it comes to teams that can actually compete with us. Errors are being forced out of us and we’re being played into our own half.

Take this moment for example. Daugherty passes the ball to Hayes and City immediately put on the pressure. With two players closing in on Hayes, they’ve already cut off three passing options. Ross, Clark, and Craig are out of the picture if we want to keep possession, meaning that she can either pass back to the goalkeeper or attempt a forward-move by sending the ball to Barclais. In the end, she chose to pass to Barclais, but City were smart and forced the right-back to play it back to Hayes.

When teams have quality and we are put under pressure, we lose our heads. We have less time to think and that is where the errors are coming from. It’s just like what Callum McGregor spoke about in perspective of the men’s games. You need to have your brain switched on for 90 minutes and keep the concentration. You can’t afford to spend too long on the ball because you will get taken advantage of.

Attacking Movement

Don’t worry though, it’s not all bad. Although we haven’t looked great on the attacking front yet, we have players who can do a job up front, especially now that Flint has made her spectacular return to Glasgow.

The build-up to the second penalty against theRangers is a perfect example. Gallacher calls for the ball, but there are at least three players that could intercept the pass if Hayes were to make it. Hayes attempts it though, and Gallacher decides to drop deep rather than hoping it will fall into her path.

This puts her in a difficult position, having to fight off multiple theRangers’ players, but it also gives her the opportunity to play a through ball. She eventually makes the pass after noticing Smith preparing to make a run, and this gives the trailing theRangers defender two options. She can either let Smith take a shot or attempt a tackle. She chose the latter, and that worked in our favour as the referee awarded us a penalty for the foul.

These are the plays we should be looking to make. We need to leave the opposition with few options as possible, because that will always work in our favour.

Partido is also a player capable of making these great decisions. Although she hasn’t performed well recently, she has shown her skill throughout the season and this moment is a great example of what she can do. After receiving the ball, she cuts inside and there are two City defenders left to beat. Thankfully for Partido, she also has two options to choose from.

She can either play a pass to Flint, although there is a chance that she could end up offside, or play a long ball to Agnew. The second option is more difficult as it would have to be quite accurate in order to evade the defender, but it’s great that our forwards can get themselves in the correct positions to give our creative players options.

Pass Map and Momentum

This is a map of our successful passes in the first half, and it paints a very clear picture. Thicker lines indicate more passes, whilst thinner lines indicate a lower amount. The red lines are all the passes made in 45 minutes, so you can get a better idea of who played the ball to who.

Kelsey Daugherty

Most of the action happened in our own half, with the ball between played between Clark, Hayes, and Daugherty more often than most fans would like to see. As Celtic fans, it’s natural for us to want to see attacking play, so to be honest, it’s like watching paint dry when we’re just passing it around the back for minutes on end.

Craig wasn’t really involved in the attack, making very few passes to Agnew throughout the half. Barclais was the more attacking full-back, regularly laying off the ball to both Partido and Gallacher.

Partido didn’t find Flint with a successful pass at all in the first half, and rather chose to go through Gallacher. Even she couldn’t get the ball to Flint, with the only regular forward-thinking passes coming to the Reds loanee from Agnew. That isn’t good considering Agnew didn’t even see a lot of the ball.

Tash Flint

This pass map was made by me as its difficult to get statistics and graphics like this officially. I am confident that it is as accurate as possible, so why was there not a single successful pass between Cavanagh and Ross? Surely, if we’re going to pair players in the midfield together then they should be looking to work together to move up the pitch, rather than playing it back to the defenders when the going gets tough.

Momentum of the match never went in our favour as we struggled to assert any sort of control. In the early stages, we looked a little bit positive when Flint headed into the goalkeeper’s hands but after that, as you can see, neither team did much as we entered a stalemate. Like I mentioned before, we were played into our own half with City pressuring us and coming close on a few occasions. The only time we looked like we could’ve done something was in the dying embers when the game was all but lost.

Final Thoughts

The system that Elena Sadiku is building at Celtic looks promising, but the transition into this new era has not been as seamless as many of us had hoped it would be. Two losses have put a dampener on things, but we can’t lose hope.

Elena Sadiku

Players are going to take a while to get used to the formation and there are clearly some communication-errors between the backline. The addition of a pacey defender would be welcome in the summer, especially if we’re going to stick with a back-four.

Our attack is looking promising, with Gallacher’s decision-making and Partido’s creative ability offering us a brilliant foundation for a ruthless side. Some aspects of our offensive play need to be worked on, like the fact that Flint (or any other striker playing in her role) is being frozen out of the game. We could have had Haaland up front yesterday and we still would’ve had no luck, because we couldn’t get the ball up there. That needs to be fixed sooner rather than later or we will struggle against the better sides in the league.

It’s important to remember that Elena has been in Glasgow for a very short period of time. She is still getting to know these players and vice versa. She certainly believes that she can take this club far and I have faith that she will do just that. With time and dedication on the pitch, we will get our hands on a league title. There is no doubt in my mind.

Jessica Elliott

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About Author

I'm a student journalist and Celtic supporter. I'm delighted to have been recently appointed women's football writer for The Celtic Star, where the coverage of the Celtic FC Women's team has been incredible and unrivalled over the past three seasons.


  1. elena,……2 master classes..its a pity football is not played on paper….its going to be a barren season,,,,why change a winning formula……( queen of queens,,,,,no way,more like crap of crappers )…