There’s an old saying in football that players win matches, not formations. But Neil Lennon’s mind will be on the latter as he prepares for this weekend’s crucial Glasgow derby.
Celtic have played in a 4-4-2 formation for almost all of Lennon’s time in charge. And in recent weeks the team has found form with a much more solid version of that formation featuring one winger and three genuine midfielders.
But in two visits to Ibrox since the turn of the year, Neil Lennon has lined his team up in a 4-5-1 formation with considerable success: a 2 – 0 league win with both goals from lone frontman Georgious Samaras and a 2 – 2 cup draw despite playing with ten men for a long period.
With several players now back to fitness after time out and midfielder Ki returned safely from international duty, Lennon has options. The manager would always prefer to have difficult decisions to make in terms of team selection, but he knows he must get this one right.
It’s pretty obvious that Rangers will play a defensive formation, flooding midfield and trying to deny space. They would be quite happy with a draw. So how does Lennon best counter this?
With two up front, the potent combination of Gary Hooper and Anthony Stokes would lead the attack. Both are in their first season at the club and are already building a tremendous understanding. And are both on scoring form.
That would leave new signing Kris Commons on the left wing, captain Scott Brown on the right and Biram Kayal teaming up with Joe Ledley in the centre of midfield. Plenty of attacking options there.
If it is to be 4-5-1 then Ki would likely be the additional midfielder. And Samaras must then come into contention for a start. He is the most natural in the lone striker role, while Hooper and Stokes both prefer to play with a partner. But dropping the top two scorers from his line up for a home game may just be a step too far for Neil Lennon.
There might just have been a clue to the likely formation in last week’s win at Dundee United. And it’s a way to solve the dilemma, as the line up on Sunday was more of a 4-4-1-1. It could have been something of a trial run for the derby – and a successful one at that.
At Tannadice Gary Hooper was utilised behind Anthony Stokes, finding space between the opposition’s midfield and defence. He played a number of good balls through for Stokes who worked hard to run the channels and make himself available.
This formation could just cause trouble for Rangers. Against the veteran Weir on two days rest and the positionally undisciplined Bougherra, Stokes could find space in their penalty area.
I have a feeling that this may just be the way Celtic start on Sunday. And with a strong squad of players there would be plenty options from the bench to change things if it doesn’t work out.
But what do I know? Neil Lennon might just have a totally different plan hidden up his sleeve.