Craig Fowler and Joel Sked dissect the performance of both sides as Celtic ran out 4-1 winners in the Ladbrokes Premiership battle at Firhill
Armstrong dragged Celtic up a level
Boy, Celtic did not look in any way convincing during the first 30 minutes. Though completely understandable given the number of changes made, and the close proximity this game had to the 1-1 draw in Manchester on Tuesday night, they were lethargic and sloppy in their play, and barely laid a glove on Thistle in the period.
One of the big reasons they were able to raise the performance so dramatically was the play of Stuart Armstrong. The midfielder himself was a little sluggish early. He then took it upon himself to inject some life into proceedings. Playing on the left of the centre-midfield three, he continually found space in the Thistle half, bringing some much-needed fluidity to Celtic’s approach.
It enabled the visitors to not only dominate possession, but to start showing some purpose with it, instead of merely passing the ball along the back-line.
With such rich confidence, he showed real predatory instincts to attack the six-yard box when Leigh Griffiths got around Ziggy Gordon; making the kind of gambling run his providing team-mate would have been proud of. And though Tomas Cerny should have done better for the second, it again highlighted his self-belief that he felt comfortable taking the shot on. Not to mention the faith shown by Griffiths to square the ball instead of crossing into a crowded area.
Celtic have four player of the year candidates within their ranks: Moussa Dembele, Scott Sinclair, Scott Brown and Tom Rogic. The player most likely to break up that foursome could be Armstrong if he can maintain anything close to this level of performance for the rest of the campaign. CF
Griffiths may be a better option in domestic football
This may sound like an overreaction to one terrific game, but there is a difference between the styles of Celtic’s two strikers and, while Moussa Dembele is still developing, his partner may be more suited to Scottish football opponents.
On the continent, Dembele is the better option. He’s a far more rounded talent, one capable of producing a bit of skill and getting into the required positions to score, but also someone who can bully defenders and hold the ball up the park.
In Scotland, Celtic don’t need those latter attributes as much, especially against bottom six sides. Griffiths is an explosive weapon in attack and displays greater ruthlessness. Against Partick Thistle he was terrific. Aside from the goal and the assist, his movement left Thistle bamboozled, especially in the second half where he simply pulled the strings in the final third.
What may hurt Griffiths’ chances of keeping his place is the fact that, regardless of who plays, Celtic will win the title. Dembele could be a £20m player, such is his immense potential. Keeping him on the bench is only going to make him unhappy and stunt his growth. However, if Griffiths maintains the level of performance he showed against Thistle, there’s no justifiable reason for dropping him.
Brendan Rodgers may soon have a tough decision on his hands. CF
Azeez completes Doolan
For 74 minutes Kris Doolan led a futile existence. He will be going home thinking of all the things he could have done with his Friday evening rather than running about unproductively.
Going into the season he was Thistle’s talisman with 34 league goals, and he has added three more so far. For the first time he has been given a strike partner. Tonight it was Chris Erskine but Doolan has been at his best alongside Ade Azeez. The duo have different qualities but their respective strengths bring out the best in each other.
Erskine struggled to link with the midfield, while he doesn’t have the pace of Azeez in behind. Azeez came off the bench and quickly offered that threat, racing onto a flick-on but took a heavy touch before going to ground as Craig Gordon jumped out. He was correctly cautioned.
The issue with Azeez is that he is untrustworthy in front of goal. That was the third time in recent weeks he passed up a chance racing on to a bouncing ball on the right side of the box. Yet, his movement, pace and willingness to stretch play gives so much to Thistle. He asks questions of the opposition and allows Doolan to interact with team mates and sniff out chances. JS
Old Firm, old ways
Alan Archibald has reverted to a back four twice in recent weeks. Against both Rangers and Celtic, Thistle started with a 4-4-2 system, while against Aberdeen they started with the back three but changed at half-time to a diamond.
It suggests Archibald has his misgivings about the 3-5-2 system against better opposition, yet there has been little proof that the 4-4-2 has been more effective. Against the Old Firm, Ade Azeez found himself starting on the bench, despite his qualities perhaps being the best way to threaten the respective defences.
Normally a back three would be used against a two-man strike-force, giving the defending team and extra man. Playing it against a lone striker would mean one marks, one sits spare and then one is wasted. But the way Celtic play with wide players cutting in and forward movements from the likes of Stuart Armstrong, two spare men would be useful. One player could man-mark Griffiths, while the other two snuff out advancing threats.
It would allow Thistle to match up Celtic three-on-three in the middle of midfield, while having two out-balls. Azeez offers a threat down the flanks and to chase long balls, while Doolan can take the ball into feet and look for space in and around the box.
The issue would be the doubling up of Celtic full-back and wide player, if they hold their width on Thistle’s wing-back. It would put more responsibility on the midfield to cover. But the pros outweigh the cons.
It will be interesting to see what Archibald does when Thistle next face the league’s frontrunners, especially with a trip to Tynecastle next week. JS
Roberts needs to shake off inconsistency
When asked about Patrick Roberts, Pep Guardiola said that they would talk at the end of the season. If Roberts puts in a consistent run of performances like the one he did at the Etihad Stadium it would give Guardiola plenty to think about.
If performances are more in keeping with tonight’s against Partick Thistle the conversation will be short and straight to the point.
‘. . . bye!’
Roberts has been enigmatic under Rodgers. Similar to Griffiths, big things were expected of him under the Northern Irishman. And similar to Griffiths, injury early in the season hampered his progress. While Dembele and James Forrest took their chance to lay their claim to starting positions, Griffiths and Roberts had to make do with intermittent appearances.
Roberts has found his way back into the team following Sinclair’s injury but has only shown flashes of his vast talent, which is more potential than finished product. Still only 19 years old, it would be folly to write Roberts off, but the top level of football is a ruthless environment. At the moment with inconsistencies in his game, is he a Manchester City player? No.
He was ineffectual throughout and was unable to do to Callum Booth what he did to Gael Clichy. He looked like the best player in the league towards the end of last season. If everyone is fully fit he’s not even getting in the starting XI this term.
More end-product and efficiency with the ball is needed. He will still have a run of games to come with six more before the year is out, but with Sinclair coming back Roberts needs to start making an impression. Not only for his position in the team but for his future beyond this season.