What is Happening at Celtic and What Needs to Change?

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Celtic are nearing disaster, as Rangers paint Glasgow blue

Before the start of the season, spirits were high around Celtic Park with the prospect of an unprecedented 10th Scottish League championship on the horizon, and bragging rights over their neighbours Rangers once again, who themselves also uphold a famous nine in a row of title throughout 1989-1997. A title triumph again for the green side of Glasgow would have out Celtic into a world of their own of 10 in a row and put the club on 52 league titles and just two behind Rangers' all-time record of 54.

However, fast forward to December, and the situation Cetlic find themselves in is far from the monopoly we have seen them hold over Scottish football in recent years. A defeat to Ross County in the League Cup a few weeks back ended a run of 35 cup wins and the hopes of retaining a trophy which they have held since 2016, which inevitably sparked chaotic scenes outside the ground in which two police officers were injured.

Swathes of the Hoops fans hurled metal dividers and violent abuse, calling for the resignation of Neil Lennon as the pressure continues to mount for the man who has won 10 league titles with the club (5 as a player, 5 as a manager). Rumours of Martin O’Neil returning to the club for a second managerial stint have intensified over recent weeks, and he is now favourite to take over at 11/10.

While the impeccable form of Steven Gerrard’s unbeaten Rangers side cannot be ignored, the Hoops find themselves trailing by 13 points, albeit with two games in hand. However, with just two wins since the start of September, the club have crashed out at the bottom of the Europa League by failing to win a single game and they also have just nine wins from 14 games in the Scottish top flight.

Rangers are now as short as 1/6 to win their first title since 2010/11 in what will be a damning moment in the history of Celtic, as they will finally succumb to the pressure that has been building from the blue side of Glasgow since they were promoted back to the SPFL in 2017. In fact, Rangers sit top of their Europa League group and top of the SPFL, with just four points dropped all season in Scotland, with nobody yet to beat them in their homeland.

Lennon and the players have to take an equal hit

The tactical nuance of Lennon can be cited as the reason for Celtic’s recent domestic domination, but his side have often looked disjointed this season, with players being shoehorned into positions that may not necessarily be suited to their skillset. Most notably, the manager has often interchanged between a 3-5-2 and a 4-2-3-1 formation, meaning that the positive results that have been few and far between this season are rarely replicated in the following fixture.

The likes of Ryan Christie and Mohammed Elyounoussi have often been deployed as strikers even with Odsonne Edouard fit and more suited to the role. In addition, while promising Dutch youngster, Jeremie Frimpong, offers incredible energy down the right, he is better suited to his natural right-back position, freeing up the likes of James Forrest to fill in with a safe pair of hands.

While this requirement of his players to be flexible is a simple one, having the ability to deputise in unnatural positions seems to have held them back in certain games, particularly in recent defeats against Ross County and Sparta Prague.

Furthermore, the tempo of their play has been uncharacteristically sluggish compared to the expansive, tenacious football that has won them nine titles in a row up until now. The manager needs to find a way to incorporate 21-year-old David Turnbull into the midfield, with Scott Brown, Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie often the trio Lennon opts for.

However, Turnbull completely changed the game a few weeks ago on matchday 15 to rescue a point against Hibernian, showing his ability as a creative number 10 with quick, sharp passing seemingly upping the tempo in the second half. He also has Tom Rogic who occupies a similar position and was the shining light in an otherwise dismal cup defeat last weekend. If he can find a way to give these creative number 10s, the license to roam and ultimately place less emphasis on the wide route, it could change the way Celtic play for the better.

Whether it is the pressure of the 10th title in a row record, or simply a case of one season too many for Neil Lennon, something is seemingly wrong behind the scenes. The two games in hand over Rangers are crucial and fixtures in which Celtic absolutely must win if they are to stand any chance of retaining the title. Although it is hard to tell how long it may be before the club decides to bite the bullet and bring in new management, the only way Lennon can keep his job is by making up the ground between his side and league leaders Rangers.

By Charlie Rhodes

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