Neil Lennon alert to danger of Barca distracting players
NEIL Lennon says he intends to “put his feet up” and watch live television coverage of Barcelona’s league fixture at home to Celta Vigo this evening.
But the Celtic manager has issued a stern warning to his players not to rest on their laurels ahead of their Champions League assignment against the Catalan giants in Glasgow next Wednesday night.
Although soothed considerably by his team’s midweek League Cup demolition of St Johnstone, Lennon still retains a simmering sense of unhappiness at the 2-0 SPL defeat they suffered at home to Kilmarnock last Saturday. It came just a few days after Celtic received plaudits for their agonising stoppage time loss to Barcelona at the Nou Camp, reinforcing Lennon’s concerns that the European challenge can prompt his players to take their eyes off the ball domestically.
He is determined there will be no such lack of focus against Dundee United at Tannadice tomorrow as he prepares for what he always regards as one of the most appealing dates in his diary.
“I don’t want to talk about Barca today,” said Lennon. “The SPL is our priority and with the players being part of a new adventure in the Champions League, there are times they get distracted. I felt that was again the case last weekend when they didn’t turn up.
“They needed freshened up because they put a lot into the game at the Nou Camp and I was wary of the signs of fatigue in the second half against Hearts on our return from Moscow in the previous game.
“We let ourselves down against Kilmarnock. I don’t want people to save themselves or rest themselves for Barcelona, because it’s just one game and the season doesn’t end on 7 November. There are more big games to come. It is a big game against Barcelona, but one of many.
“Dundee United is always a great fixture for me, one I look forward to. I like the colour and the atmosphere at Tannadice. The games there are always played at a good tempo, so I’m expecting us to come out of the blocks and play strongly. I was there on Wednesday when they played Hearts in the League Cup and were a bit unfortunate not to get through. They have good attacking options now, with Rudi Skacel on board and Gary Mackay-Steven back from injury.”
United currently languish third from bottom of the SPL, already eight points adrift of leaders Celtic, but Lennon believes that gives a false impression of Peter Houston’s side.
“It is a surprise in one way, but not in another,” Lennon reasoned. “They don’t seem to start seasons well, although I saw Peter saying they are actually two points better off than they were at the same stage last season. So that’s a warning for the rest of the clubs.
“Traditionally, United come on very strong in the latter stages of the season and I expect this year to be no different. We have the advantage this week of an extra day’s rest after our League Cup tie, with United also having had extra time in their game.
“I want our attitude to be right, with a good tempo to our play. It will have to be, because I want us to return to winning ways in the SPL.”
Among many positive memories of Tannadice from his time in Scottish football, Celtic’s 2008 title-clinching win at the ground stands out as a pivotal moment for Lennon. He had been brought back to the club as first-team coach by Gordon Strachan for the closing stages of the campaign following the untimely passing of Tommy Burns.
It was the start of a chain of circumstances which led to Lennon becoming Celtic manager in his own right and he remains grateful to Strachan, a man whose counsel he still values and calls upon regularly.
“I was just ticking along, seeing out my playing career at Wycombe under Paul Lambert, when the call came out of the blue from Gordon,” he recalls. “It was under hugely emotional circumstances and it was too good an opportunity to turn down.
“I wouldn’t think I’d be sitting here now as Celtic manager if Gordon had not made that call to come and help out. When he left in 2009, I was thinking I’d try something else but Peter Lawwell talked me into staying with the job in charge of the development team. I learned a lot in that year, then when Tony Mowbray left I got the opportunity to be caretaker manager. I felt I had to grab it and see where it took me. It has taken me a long way now in a short space of time.
“Gordon has always remained a good sounding board for me. I worked well under him and he was very good to me, making me captain. Since I became manager, he has been there for me. I don’t ring him every week, but he’s there for advice whenever I need him.”
Lennon will be without winger James Forrest at Tannadice tomorrow, while Georgios Samaras and captain Scott Brown are doubtful. Brown’s ongoing injury problem means Celtic will request he is omitted from the Scotland squad for the friendly against Luxembourg on 14 November.
Reports that Manchester United are preparing a £13 million January bid for Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama, who has turned down a new contract offer from Celtic, were dismissed with a smile by Lennon yesterday. “It’s at least £12 million short,” he said, a reference to the £25 million price tag he recently attached to Wanyama.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 20 June 2013
Temperature: 11 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 11 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West