With just one senior centre-back fit, and potentially zero recognised strikers, Brendan Rodgers is in a bit of a pickle ahead of the first real test of the 2017/18 campaign.
Partly due to the lack of defenders, and partly due to the level of opposition, Rodgers was assured enough to line up with a supremely attacking formation in the 4–0 trouncing of Linfield.
Tierney and Lustig acted as pseudo-full-backs, while Brown dropped into defence in the few occasions required.
The unorthodox formation also resolved a not-so-thought-about issue in that the midfield is overburdened with players who expect to start. Brown is a given, but additionally how to squeeze Sinclair, Rogic, Ntcham, Armstrong, Forrest — and to an extent-Hayes and (Rodgers’ favourite) McGregor into the team?
Rosenborg are on another level from Linfield, but not without problems of their own, as this rather excellent piece determines. They’re first in the league without flying, and (forgive the term) blue-chip signing Niklas Bendtner is neither a guaranteed starter or a guaranteed finisher.
Their 3–3 draw with lowly Kristiansund is available online in full, and plenty can be taken from their style of play (in addition to the aforementioned piece from the backpass rule).
In this match, the system resembles one of Rodger’s own trademarks. Call it an attacking 4–1–4–1, 4–3–3 or perhaps 4–1–2–3. But the main feature is the controller sitting ahead of the defence, and two dynamic midfielders ahead who carry a dual creative/battling responsibility.
The “controller” here — Lundemo – is one to watch in that (unsurprisingly) he dominated the ball. The opposition didn’t use a man-marker or press him hard, so he was free to dictate. This is an argument for Rodgers’ Linfield (2nd leg) system, in that there would be little space for Lundemo in that packed midfield area.
Another standout — and again mentioned by the backpass rule website — was Midstjo in the centre of midfield. His role was precisely that of modern day Armstrong. Mobile, direct and running through lines.
Despite dominating possession, what Rosenborg seemed to lack is something Rodgers has been concentrating on at Celtic. In fact a headache for all Celtic managers, perhaps in history. That is — how to break down packed defences.
Going back to Rodgers’ 3–5–1–1, not only did Sinclair and Forrest hug the touchline, but it was so important to make use of the width, and try and stretch the compact Linfield low block. It takes quick-thinkers in midfield like Ntcham or Rogic to cycle the ball like that, and it’s difficult to say if Rosenborg have an equivalent.
Hence, Rosenborg were actually a lot more successful on the break. The right-full back is a designated set-piece taker so will clearly be a danger if given space to cross. While the left full-back was responsible for the opening goal with his overlapping run. This is the case against the 3–5–1–1, so vulnerable to counter-attacks down the flanks.
Considering how much more of a threat Rosenborg are than Linfield, Rodgers will have to consider reverting to a back four, which could mean a start for the untested Kristoffer Ajer. Alternatively, the likes of McGregor could feature at right-back with Lustig moving inside.
Yet this isn’t the only spanner in the works, with Dembele potentially ruled out through injury. With Griffiths suspended, this probably leaves on Sinclair, or another wildcard as the nominal number 9 (false or not).
The faintest of silver lining in such a scenario is opening another space in the over-encumbered midfield. With like Armstrong or Ntcham moving out wide-left (assuming playing with a back 4).
This article was written by TicTacTic and originally hosted on their Medium page. TicTacTic is a semi-retired tactics blog but you can follow new articles and regular thoughts on Celtic and wider football in general by following the Twitter account.