Celtic v Juventus: Lennon keeping line-up quiet
CONCERTED questioning over personnel and possible permutations for Celtic’s Champions League last-16 tie at home to Juventus on Tuesday elicited an unusually defensive reply from Neil Lennon at the club’s training ground the other day. “Listen, you can probe away all you want but I’m not going to tell you my team,” said the Celtic manager.
Lennon once talked down the importance of tactics and configurations. Not now. He knows Barcelona were overcome because of how his team approached their unenviable task. He knows, too, that, right now, he can’t possibly know his team.
The participation of Georgios Samaras, Emilio Izaguirre and James Forrest is in the balance because of injury concerns. Meanwhile, there are serious doubts over whether Efe Ambrose can possibly be included when he will play for Nigeria in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa this evening.
What Lennon can say with certainty is how the Italians will line up. “I went out and saw them play Genoa at home. It’s a 3-5-2 they play. [Manager Antonio] Conte is rigid with that. When they don’t have it, it becomes a five with [Andrea] Pirlo, [Paul] Pogba and [Arturo] Vidal in the middle and the two strikers play together, very much like Henrik [Larsson] and Chris [Sutton] used to do with little step-overs and flicks round the corner, that type of thing. If [Sebastian] Giovinco plays, he likes to drop a little deeper. They are strong, organised and they all know their positions on the pitch. They get back into position very quickly.
“It’s almost a back five so they are going to be very difficult to break down. Going forward, [Mirko] Vucinic is a very good player and takes everything into feet and they have three very strong players in midfield. They are very pragmatic but clinical in the final third. We do think we can get at them, though.”
The present-day Juventus are more “workmanlike” than the flair-filled side Celtic beat in 2001 which boasted Alessandro del Piero, David Trezeguet and Edgar Davids, Lennon believes. Over the next days, the Irishman will be concentrating on formulating a system to cope with a side who are better defensively than Barcelona.
“We are trying to think of a formation. Udinese had a back three when we played against them last year and I quite like the way we played there. We hope Samaras and Izaguirre will make it and that will make our job in selecting the team a lot easier.”
He declares the Greek, who has scored in the club’s past five Champions League away games, is “pivotal” to the way his team plays. He was in the Europa League game in Udinese in December 2011. Then Lennon set his team out 4-3-2-1. Samaras was one of the support two for Gary Hooper, along with Forrest, and the direct running into channels exploited space that the home side’s back three left in the full-back areas.
Lennon hopes, as has been the case, that the likes of as Victor Wanyama and Hooper can raise their games to match the occasion. He hopes too that Charlie Mulgrew’s set-piece delivery will continue to be a crucial weapon. If Ambrose does not play, though, Lennon won’t be tempted to play the Scot in central defence. “No. I wouldn’t have thought so,” he said of that. It is therefore likely that Kelvin Wilson will partner Mikael Lustig at the back, with Mulgrew deployed wide left of a midfield three, Wanyama in the middle of that trio and Scott Brown on the right. That will allow Wanyama to effectively be the sweeper in front of a central defensive two when Izaguirre and Adam Matthews bomb on. The chess game between the two managers on Tuesday won’t necessarily be decisive. Neither will the presence of the peerless Pirlo, about whom Lennon has spoken to such people as England manager Roy Hodgson, Alex Miller and Martin Ferguson, brother of Sir Alex, to gain pointers on.
“I won’t build my whole team around stopping Pirlo,” the Celtic manager said. “We have to try and think about how we score a goal. But we haven’t played a Champions League game since the first week in December so it will take a bit of adjusting in terms of the pace, tempo and concentration levels. They boys have had a brilliant campaign and we have a chance over the two games. It’s a two-game competition now, it’s not just about the home game.
“Even if we don’t win the game, so long as we don’t concede, who knows anything can happen in Turin and that’s the way we are going to approach it. It’s not all about this 90 minutes on Tuesday, it’s about the two games.”
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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