John Kennedy admits culpability for Malmö loss

John Kennedy was at Hampden to see Celtic paired with Raith in the League Cup. Picture: Roddy Scott/SNS
John Kennedy was at Hampden to see Celtic paired with Raith in the League Cup. Picture: Roddy Scott/SNS
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CELTIC first-team coach John Kennedy believes he is culpable for the defensive failings which led to Champions League elimination in Malmö.

But the man who masterminds Celtic’s defensive set-play tactics insists they will stick with their policy of zonal marking when they attempt to regain some continental credibility in the Europa League this season.

In the 4-3 aggregate defeat by Malmö in the Champions League play-off, Celtic conceded three goals from corner kicks – Jo Inge Berget’s stoppage time strike at Parkhead in the first leg and then both goals in Tuesday’s demoralising second-leg loss in Sweden.

“I’m a large part of that,” admitted Kennedy. “I have to take as much responsibility as anyone for set-plays and being ready for them. I shoulder the blame for part of that.

“As we move on, we’ll look to tweak things and improve. But zonal marking is something that’s stood us in good stead in the past and we’ll make sure if there are any problems, we’ll fix them.

“When you concede with zonal marking, the debate about it always starts. But when you concede from man-marking, no one bats an eyelid.

“We have worked on zonal marking, we firmly believe in it. We think the players we have are suited to it.

“In one game, it’s not worked for us. Yet, over the course of last season I think domestically we conceded about two goals from set-pieces. But against Malmö we’ve conceded three over two games.

“When you’ve got the height and presence that we have in our team, if we get our players in positions we find the most dangerous, then they are more able to defend that.

“But when you man mark – for instance if we put Virgil van Dijk on someone – he can take him out to the back area where it’s not a danger. But that also means you can be isolated in other areas of the box.

“So we put our big guys in the areas we think are the most dangerous. It’s worked in the past, although I accept it didn’t on Tuesday night. But it’s not just down solely to zonal marking. You look at the whole performance and it just wasn’t good enough.

“We showed in the first leg the potential we have as a team and how we can play. If we’d shown that in the second leg then there’s no doubt we would’ve gone through.”

The inquest into Tuesday has already been carried out by manager Ronny Deila and his coaching staff but Kennedy revealed there have been no recriminations among them or the players.

“We don’t ever have any heated discussions,” said the former Scotland defender. “We discuss things, we look at facts and we will look at the videos and ask questions – what are we doing here, what were we doing there? As a coaching team we want to move forward.

“What we have is a very good group of players who have bought into that. They ask questions with the right intention to make sure we move forward all the time. As a group there is no-one pointing fingers. We are all in it together and we know that the other night wasn’t good enough.

“Ronny is a thinker. He analyses everything that goes on. He reflects on everything regarding the team and us as a staff. He comes up with answers. He’s very good at that.

“He involves everyone, he doesn’t go away on his own and come back and say ‘we’re doing this, this and this’. He wants everyone to have an opinion. It’s important that we can debate things and come to a conclusion about the best things to move everything forward.”

Celtic will learn their Europa League fate at noon today when the group stage draw takes place in Monaco. Having reached the last 32 last season, the benchmark for further progress has been set.

“We did well to qualify from what we felt was a difficult group last year,” added Kennedy. “We want to go as far as we possibly can this time but we have to wait and see the draw first.

“These games test you, they let you see fully where you are at. You do get punished harshly if you don’t defend well enough.

“It is no secret that the Champions League is where we want to be and I think we have a team capable of being there, but we didn’t perform well enough in Malmö and that has cost us. We have the Europa League now, there are some good teams in there and we have to make sure we are positive enough to approach that with the right attitude.”

It remains to be seen whether Celtic will retain Virgil van Dijk’s services for the tournament but Kennedy insists there are no fresh developments regarding the Dutch defender’s widely speculated move to Southampton before Tuesday’s transfer deadline.

“There has been a lot of talk about Virgil,” said Kennedy. “He is a fantastic player and there is always going to be speculation about him.

“Until anything happens, we have to make sure we go with what we’ve got. We’ve got other players who can come in and do a good job, as we showed against Dundee United last week.

“Obviously the speculation about Virgil won’t go away until the transfer window closes or he moves on. Until then, it’s just speculation.

“Nothing has happened in the last few days. Virgil was training this morning, getting ready for the game against St Johnstone on Saturday.”