Celtic and Sion Share Meagre Spoils

A disappointing goalless draw at home leaves Celtic with plenty of work to do in Switzerland if they are to progress to the group stages of the Europa League. It’s a stated objective of the manger (and an implied objective of the Board in every set of financial statements) that European football is a crucial barometer of success for Celtic.

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While this was far from a nadir in recent European performances for Celtic, it was ultimately disappointing, not only in terms of the result but in the paucity of chances created and the limited attacking play. Neil Lennon appeared to spend much of the game fumbling around for the correct formation to try and unlock a stubborn Swiss defence but abandoned the standard 4-4-2 that had started promisingly.

There are times for varying the setup between games and within games but some allowance needs to be made for the suitability of personnel for that system. Neither Stokes nor Samaras contributed anything of note when they were deployed on the wing, yet both caused problems when playing in their natural central positions. The multiple variations on 4-3-3 and 4-5-1 are useful in combating an overloaded midfield (as presented by Sion) and in asking more subtle questions of an opposing back four, but they depend on the appropriate personnel being available. Kris Commons, Stokes and Samaras all suffered from operating in alien roles and the overall effect was an attack that was blunter than it should have been.

This is a tie that remains firmly in the balance however. Sion, understandably but frustratingly cautious in their outlook, are not as strong a side as FC Utrecht on this viewing. They have some neat footballers in midfield, a dangerous attacking threat in Sio and particularly Feindouno, but not much in the way of width in their play. Defensively they were compact, as three centre backs in the space of two will tend to be, but a little rash in some clearances and both the aerial threat of Samaras and the quick feet of the smaller attacking players caused problems.

Sion will be favourites to progress now and that is the indictment of this performance from Celtic laid bare. The home side were timid, cautious and uncertain. The away side offered little, even in the way of resolute resistance, and find themselves in the ascendancy. There is much to play for but more room for improvement.

Player Ratings

Forster: 6
Not much of huge importance for Forster to do for the majority of the match. Dealt more competently with a couple of backpasses than he has done in the past and the one shot from distance that contained enough venom to test his wrists was beaten away safely. An unnerving final 5 minutes saw him flap at a couple of crosses, evidence perhaps that his confidence hasn’t recovered from a rather inept pre-season performance for Newcastle that featured a number of howlers.

Cha: 8
A surprise choice ahead of Matthews. A vote for experience and a possible slight edge in defensive traits that was wholly justified by an excellent performance. The defensive scares were minimal on the night but Cha’s covering on both sides of the defence snuffed out a couple of danger moments before they became bigger threats and he provided a genuine attacking threat on the right flank for much of the game. One or two poor uses of the ball towards the end suggested a lack of understanding with Forrest but otherwise this was a very satisfying performance from the Korean.

Majstorovic: 6
The Swedish centre back was generally untroubled, thanks to the limited ambition of Sion, but once again he seemed to be deliberately targeted for long balls in behind that caused him discomfort. To be fair he recovered well to these breaches and the lack of shots on Forster’s goal from open play suggests he was more in command than he looked. A worrying trend appearing in his play is the tendency to buy himself an extra yard by standing behind the other centre back. This nearly caught Celtic out at the end but for an intervention from Cha and a staggered defensive line merely delays blame rather than compensates for a lack of pace.

Mulgrew: 6
The move to centre back upset Mulgrew slightly as he dallied in possession a number of times early on. Improved in the role as the first half wore on but generally looked more at home out wide where he was deployed for the second period. One excellent cross nearly produced a goal but more often than not he was bottled up in an attacking sense on the left flank by the presence of a confused Samaras standing ahead of him. Could be more adventurous or speedy in his use of the ball from general play but he is an attacking weapon. Time to consider returning corner kicks to him also.

Wilson: 5.5
An evening of constant discomfort for Mark Wilson. Looked more like the hesitant player short on confidence from a couple of years ago than the steady full-back of last season. Everytime the ball appeared on his left foot he looked flabbergasted and swung wildly to compensate for his lack of precision. A poor tackle resulted in a booking. His versatility allows him to provide emergency cover at left back, it doesn’t facilitate playing him there for a long period of time. More at ease at centre back but that was only an option against a team that had no real physical presence up front on the night.

Commons: 5
Started of position on the right flank where he has repeatedly struggled and tonight was no different. Got an opportunity on the left after a while but instead of the asymmetrical formation causing Sion problems it seemed to just move Celtic’s wingers into areas where they threatened nobody. One wild drive in the first half summed up his frustration. A player with his goal threat from the left flank should be deployed there as often as possible but needs to take his own responsibility for a sub-par performance.

Brown: 6
Surprisingly moved inside after producing better form on the flank, presumably to offer a bit more protection in the centre of the park. Found it difficult to get on the ball in the first half and when he did grow into the game he was picking it up in areas where he can do little damage. His passing continues to be a source of huge frustration and should limit his opportunities in a standard central midfield role. He did put in a tireless effort and never shirked responsibility but he’s not a threat on the ball in deep areas.

Ki: 7
Not much came off for Ki on the night but it wasn’t for the want of trying. Got on the ball in good areas and it’s a huge improvement in his game to count the number of times he gets in possession in the opposition third. Found it hard to link-up with the lack of movement centrally ahead of him so some of his passing was more conservative than he’d have liked. He is a goalscoring threat so is effective playing more advanced than other midfielders but his ammunition is limited when there’s only striker and little penetration from the rest of the midfield.

Ledley: 7
Another who was uncomfortable in his starting role but once Ledley moved inside after 20 minutes or so he was very effective. Broke up the play all night and used the ball simply but accurately. They had a gameplan to get a wave of support for Sio in behind our midfield and Ledley ensured Sion never got possession, nevermind opportunities from that area.

Stokes: 6
A frustrating night for Stokes. He came into the game as the in-form striker so can be understandably disappointed that he spent most of his time on the pitch in a wide role. He showed a few nice touches, and played two well weighted slide-rule passes in the first half but he doesn’t play well on the wing and this was just further evidence of that indisputable fact tonight.

Samaras: 6
Has probably never won as many aerial duels as he won tonight but after a couple of promising flicks early on, and one that played Stokes in during the first half, he was isolated and merely headed the ball into space. Worked hard but didn’t look like shooting and certainly looked unlikely to score. Probably unlucky with his chance from the Maloney freekick but a more natural poacher may have been more alert to the opportunity.

Forrest: 6
Needs to work on a different trick than coming short and spinning behind but with a lack of understanding with Cha behind and some errant passes from Brown he wasn’t helped by his surroundings. Always seems to posses a goal threat when he comes on and shows great awareness in his diagonal runs for a young player.

Maloney: 6.5
Not on long enough to make a significant contribution but hit his freekick very well and was unfortunate to see it saved. Always has been a greater threat in a central attacking role.

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