Joe Ledley put in a mammoth performance in a week where he stated he wants to remain at Celtic for a long time. He took Scott Brown’s place as captain ahead of Kelvin Wilson and Fraser Forster to lead the team to another fine domestic performance.
Lennon rested many of his starters for this match against Dundee – a side struggling in isolation at the very bottom of the table. The game highlighted the increasingly dull nature of results in the SPL, despite an exciting game that featured a red card, and penalty, five goals, as well as a Dundee goal that was called offside.
Other than the side Lennon put out against Inverness prior to the Juventus game, this starting eleven was one in which Lennon left the most of his top twelve or thirteen on the bench or out of the squad entirely. Commons, Matthews, Samaras, Mulgrew, Lustig and Brown all missed out.
Formation and Lineup
The now regular 4-3-3 system was the one that Celtic began with. Ambrose started at right back, and Kayal anchored the three in front of the back four. McGeouch got a rare start on the Israeli’s right hand side, and Forrest, Hooper and Stokes formed the front three.
McGeouch played wider on the right, whereas Ledley stayed more tucked in, and let Izaguirre overlap, maintaining the width when Forrest cut inside. Kayal began the game solidly, and is generally very capable of playing as the rock in the middle of the system, although Wanyama is clearly first choice for that role.
Dundee start strong
Dundee troubled Celtic in the opening moments of the match. They had a free kick which found the back of the net, only to have it ruled offside. Celtic didn’t look like dominating the match and the three in midfield were badly outnumbered by Dundee’s five men in the middle of the park.
Ledley’s goal came from a Rab Douglas mistake, but Dundee continued to trouble Celtic at times, and the game didn’t look like getting out of hand for the visitors in the opening period.
Wanyama came on just before the half to replace Ambrose, who appeared to have picked up a knock. In all truth, it was a change that added incredible stability to Celtic. Ambrose, while good going forward, had given the ball away while attempting to dribble, on more than one occasion.
Wanyama stayed at right back; a testament to Lennon’s desire to keep both units of three intact and give Kayal and McGeouch the chance to see out the game in their natural positions.
Lockwood came on for Dundee at the half and was dismissed three minutes later following his denial of Hooper’s blatant goal scoring opportunity.
Somewhat surprisingly, James Forrest stepped up to the spot, however his conversion was as good as side foot penalties come. Shortly after, McGeouch converted a sublime ball from Stokes, who lifted it over the top for the young Scot. Just minutes earlier, Forrest and Stokes had swapped sides, and it was the Northern Irishman who was causing the trouble for Dundee down the left.
Stokes has been in fine form since his return, and although unable to find the score sheet, this was one of his best performances of the season. His running and confidence on the ball opened up all sorts of channels for Celtic. After moving to the left side of the pitch, his link up play with Joe Ledley was eventually the largest contributing factor for Celtic’s prolific performance.
The young Aussie replaced Emilio Izaguirre in the 65th minute; a substitution that changed the shape from 4-3-3 to 3-4-3. Wanyama, Wilson and Rogne stayed at the back, while Rogic joined Kayal in the middle, and Ledley moved out left.
While not quite as impressive as in the win against Caley, he still played well, spreading the ball about the pitch and helping to maintain the width of the side. If there is one criticism, it was that his final ball wasn’t quite sharp enough.
This is simply a product of inexperience and lack of polish which will come in the next three to four years.
However, based on some of his past performances for Central Coast, it appears that he shines in more open games where he is able to run at the opposition defense. In this case, Dundee were sitting deep, and there wasn’t much for him and Kayal to do but switch play in search for open channels.
Familiar Game Flow
Ledley added another beauty, and then set up Hooper for what was the best goal of the five. With four second half goals, the patterns of victory for Celtic have become more predictable as the season goes on.
The first half of this game yielded small amounts of quality football, as the game was less open than was expected. Following the red card however, Celtic ran riot round Dundee, scoring four, and always looking threatening.
The remainder of Celtic’s games are effectively irrelevant on the rest of the league campaign. Taking a positive stance on the state of the SPL, if things are to remain as they are for years to come, the absence of any opposition to Celtic’s title chances mean an increased focus and importance on Europe will be both welcome and affordable.