How Celtic’s zonal marking failed against AC Milan

Kaka scores the opening goal as the Celtic defence look on. Picture Robert Perry
Kaka scores the opening goal as the Celtic defence look on. Picture Robert Perry
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AC MILAN defender Urby Emanuelson has expressed his surprise at Celtic’s defensive vulnerability at set pieces which led to a comfortable 3-0 win for the Italian side in Glasgow on Tuesday night.

Celtic were guilty of lamentable marking for Milan’s first two goals, scored by Kaka and Cristian Zapata, as they contributed to their own Champions League downfall.

It helped Milan record their first away victory in any competition this season and left them looking forward to a matchday six shoot-out at home to Ajax for the second Group H qualification place behind Barcelona.

“I’m surprised that in the end it was so comfortable against Celtic, really surprised,” said Emanuelson. “You imagine coming here and it being such a hard game, with Celtic’s reputation and with the big crowd, but we were able to take our chances and see the game out without a problem.

“It’s especially surprising to face a British team who lets you score from corner kicks not once, but twice.

“It’s not often you see that, because that’s an old British strength. Celtic are usually organised in that area and they have some very tall guys, so it was a bonus for us to be able to get through them so easily.

“But it wasn’t just about their mistakes. I think we showed our quality all over the pitch. We showed that we are Milan and will always be Milan.

“After we beat Celtic 2-0 in Milan in the first group game, we heard a lot of people from Celtic saying that they were the better side, that they should have got the result. That was up to them.

“All I know is that we did get the result and that’s what it’s all about at this level.

“Whatever they thought in September, though, no one can argue that we deserved to win this time – and I mean no one. It’s a great feeling, a great victory – it’s exactly what the team needed in the middle of a tough time.

“We’ve been in a really bad place after a bad run of form, feeling real pressure from the fans, so to get a result like this in Glasgow with a performance like this was really special.

“When you’re a club as big as Milan and you’re not winning, the fans can get very angry and I think everyone has seen their reaction lately. So it was really important that we got a big win soon.

“Now we have one more group game, at home, which we need to get through and then I believe we can kick on and show what we are made of.”

A number of football experts queued up to put the boot into Celtic’s zonal marking policy and England goalkeeper Fraser Forster in particular for his culpability in the first two goals conceded.

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan, himself a former Celtic manager, claimed that Neil Lennon’s men simply got it wrong.

“The thing about zonal marking is you have to keep your nerve and do not move until the ball is kicked,” he said.

“There was too much movement at the second goal and too much space between the [Celtic] players at the first.”

For former England manager Glenn Hoddle, however, it was the system that was flawed. “I hate zonal marking at corners,” he said. “You see, time and time again, teams having goals scored against them. I just can’t understand why clubs do that.”

Niall Quinn, the former Arsenal, Manchester City and Republic of Ireland striker, was even more scathing.

“With the zonal thing, it looks so bad when you get it wrong,” he said. “Celtic looked like four or five statues standing in a line. They were two aimless corners which should not have led to goals at the highest level.”

Sky analyst Davie Provan, a Celtic player for nine years, said: “You can blame it on zonal marking because everyone is static.

“They’re all marking their own little bit of space and there’s no movement. That is so disappointing.”

Neither Provan nor John Collins, another former Celtic player turned TV pundit, could understand why 6ft 7in Forster refused to leave his line and collect crosses, especially in advance of the opener.

“Surely Fraser Forster should be coming for this and getting a fist on it,” said Provan. “[Kaka’s] only four or five yards out when he gets his head on that. The keeper is entitled to think that, with so many defenders in front of him, somebody would attack it.

“But now and again the keeper has to come and accept a little bit more responsibility.”

Collins agreed. “I’ve got to see my keeper commanding that area,” he said. “Normally you would expect to see Milan players rushing in but Kaka was static.

“The goalkeeper sees him, the defenders see him and nobody takes responsibility to pick him up. I think the goalkeeper has to control that zone – he’s got to come and take that.”