Realistic Neil Lennon refused to gloss over his side’s wretched defeat to Rangers but the Hoops boss looked for comfort and is adamant things will get better.
The 49-year-old pointed to his side’s injuries, covid-related absentees and the fact several of his players had only just returned from a triple-header on international duty.
Sure, Celtic could write off the lifeless 2-0 defeat as a bad day at the office but fans have been sounding alarm bells since a dreary 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock all the way back in August and Rangers have now opened up a four point gap at the top.
A supporter on social media summed it up by rightly pointing out titles aren’t awarded in autumn but fans usually have watched their team play well this side of Halloween.
The march towards Ten In A Row has been forged on their unshakable confidence but even the most ardent follower can see things are not right.
Celtic’s 21st century dominance is illustrated by the fact they have either won the league or forced it to a final day decider in every one of the last 20 seasons outwith the Tony Mowbray disaster in 2009.
They have been there or thereabouts every time since John Barnes’ side collapsed at the turn of the Millenium.
Record Sport runs the rule of the 6 executive actions needed to halt an alarming run of form.
Uncover an identity
Rediscovering might be more apt but it’s a long seven months since the Hoops were rocking as they battered St Mirren 5-0 in their final game before lockdown. Even the most defiant Celtic fan see Rangers have their rivals beat when it comes to a clear style of play. Steven Gerrard’s men know exactly what to do whereas the current Hoops side appear rudderless and look, for much of this season, a team bereft of ideas. Lennon’s side for much of last season produced football that had their followers purring but the current fare is ponderous and predictable. Yes, Lennon was right to talk up the Hibs win but that rave review only highlights how much of a chore the rest of the season has been. This has to change quickly and goes way beyond what shape the Premiership champions are lining up in.
Find a 3-5-2 alternative
And the first action tees us up nicely for another key change needed. Lennon excelled in a 3-5-2 as a player and hit the jackpot with it post-Dubai as Celtic steamrollered the opposition before lockdown – but the current version isn’t working. Scott Brown’s form will always be the subject of great debate but he didn’t play in the shocker against St Johnstone until the dying minutes. Nonetheless the 35-year-old is playing deeper than he ever has before and is part of the monotonous build-up play. The 4-3-3 has been a favourite of Lennon’s but it’s currently less appealing with Mikey Johnston and James Forrest on the sidelines. There’s no easy answer but some tactical inspiration is needed.
A definitive Shane Duffy decision
Everyone can see it’s not working so far and the boyhood Celtic fan himself cut a dejected figure at the final whistle as he embraced his former Brighton pal Connor Goldson after his Rangers double. He then issued a grovelling apology after the game. The imposing Republic of Ireland international is increasingly looking like a man who has been cast in the wrong show. The 28-year-old’s a serious threat in both boxes but even his aerial ability has been dulled due to his insistence on using his opponent as a launchpad. Duffy is great when it’s backs against the wall but appears unsuited to building attacks and dealing with nifty players able to turn at him pace. Rangers targeted him and that’s another worrying sign.
Keep believing in Klimala
Who could have guessed that Celtic’s raw 22-year-old striker would struggle against Rangers’ best central defensive pairing in a decade? Klimala was a victim of a performance bereft of ideas. The Poland youth international has the same qualities and flaws as he did before the game but his dreary showing shouldn’t result in a lack of opportunities. His finishing remains erratic and appears more suited to a counter-attacking team but his can-do attitude and searing pace have provided Celtic with a spark at times. Expect Odsonne Edouard, Leigh Griffiths and Albian Ajeti to leapfrog him it’s hard to shake the feeling Kilmala provides an x-factor despite his current limitations.
Get Jullien back quickly
The £7m defender is the prime example of a player who is better than his reputation. Scottish football fans have watched Lyndon Dykes and Nicke Kabamba rough him up to leave him huffing and puffing, His body language at times is awful but he’s Celtic’s best defender when he’s fit. A back complaint has kept him sidelined but it’s easy to forget how well he played for long stages last season.
Jullien was brilliant against Lazio and his display in the dogged 1-0 win away to Aberdeen would have rivalled Johan Mjallby when it came to putting his body in harms way, His cross-field passes have also been a miss with Celtic way too slow at present at bringing the ball out from the back. His social media silliness undersells a steely operator who can make the toling champions better.
Let Turnbull free
The Scotland U21 international is awaiting his big Celtic moment has been unable to capitalise on his all-action 45-minute cameo against Hibs. He, like many others, was below his best away to St Johnstone but his ability to break the lines will be vital with the fixtures coming thick and fast ahead of a brutal 10-game stretch. Celtic aren’t short on midfield options but haven’t had a player like Turnbull since Stuart Armstrong said goodbye back in 2018. Lennon has been cautious with the £3m man but the 21-year-old seems a sensible solution to address the glaring need for more ingenuity in the midfield area.