Neil Lennon admits Celtic tactical rethink to end Rangers derby superiority
Lennon accepts the shape that has become second nature to Steven Gerrard’s men has helped allow them to manipulate the rivals’ three meetings since the Scottish champions won 2-0 at Ibrox in September 2019.
Even beyond the fact that Celtic’s predicament in trailing Rangers by 16 points in the title race renders the encounter a must-not-lose for his team, Lennon recognises his players owe their supporters a performance in a game that makes-and-break reputations and campaigns. Two home defeats at Parkhead and a largely fluked 2019 League Cup final success across their match-ups in the past 17 months has prompted that scenario.
“I wouldn’t disagree, so that’s something we need to look at and rectify,” Lennon said about Rangers’ propensity to outplay their ancient adversaries lately. “I think we owe a performance to ourselves – we need to play better, be stronger and by physically better.
“Look. there were mitigating circumstances for the last one [in October, when we lost 2-0]. We had a lot of players out with covid and injury and we were a bit flat. But in the previous two games Rangers were the better team – at Celtic Park and also at Hampden, even though we prevailed at the end. So it’s important we put in a performance. Having said that, if we play crap and win I’ll still be delighted but I would like to get the best of both worlds.
“Their system is good and they’re well drilled in it so it is something we need to think about. We went 4-3-3 in the previous two games [last season] and we weren’t very good. Then we went to three at the back for the last one but the personnel wasn’t great as we didn’t have the quality that we would have liked. So it’s something we’ll have to think about, no question.”
Lennon appears unlikely to change from the 4-1-2-1-2 formation that has come to the fore as Celtic have shaken off desperate form to post six straight successes. Central to the change in fortunes has been Leigh Griffiths being partnered with Odsonne Edouard in attack and Ismaila Soro – who has dislodged captain Scot Brown – and David Turnbull playing at the base and apex respectively of a narrow midfield diamond.
Celtic haven’t started with either a front two or such a central configuration in Gerrard’s two-and-a-half years in charge. Despite neither Soro – with only five full appearances for the club – or Turnbull – who has a mere seven and claimed four goals in them – having started a derby, Lennon suggests their time as now in having breathed life into a previously moribund team.
“No fears,” he said of handling the pair their first starts in the unique fixture, which would see Tom Rogic and Brown bench options if rejigging was required. “They are playing well and in a good vein of form and we have good experience to come on if we need it.”
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