After Celtic’s efficient victory over an impotent Dundee, here are five things we learned from today’s lunchtime kick-off.
Brendan Rodgers doesn’t feel the need to frivolously rotate
Having put every last drop of energy into their 3-3 draw with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, you would think some players would have been given the afternoon off. Celtic have packed a lot of matches into the last few weeks but Rodgers has stuck largely to the same line-up. His only change for the visit to Dens Park was to replace 35-year-old Kolo Toure with Jozo Simunovic.
Why would he want to change, especially in attack? Celtic’s front four has scored 18 of their 23 league goals this season – three of the other five have been scored by Leigh Griffiths. Scott Sinclair has six, Moussa Dembele has five, James Forrest has four, while Tom Rogic has three. And while they may not be scoring goals, their defenders are contributing heavily to assists. Of their 18 assists, defenders have provided seven with another coming from defensive midfielder Nir Bitton.
Dundee are toothless in attack
It was always going to be a difficult season for the Dundee strikeforce. Two player of the year nominees were sold during the latest transfer window to be replaced with two unknown quantities in Faissal El Bakhtaoui and Yordi Teijsse. So far, the former has scored one goal though looked a little lightweight; the latter managed his first Premiership start this afternoon and barely had a sniff at goal. The result is that Dundee have gone from one of the most feared attacks in the league to one of the most toothless. Rory Loy, a late sub, has shown that he has goals but is unable to stay fit long enough to justify an extended run in the side.
There are issues out wide too. Paul Hartley’s side lacked width last season and little has been done to address this. Danny Williams was added but has so far only shown flashes of what he can do. The temps Hartley, as it did last season, to field a healthy portion of central midfielders in every starting line-up, but there are problems there too...
Dundee lack creativity in midfield
Hartley blossomed late in his career as an exciting attacking midfielder that gets up in support of and beyond the striker. He has brought a fair few central midfielders to the club in his time at Dens though none are performing this role for him at the moment. Of the three who started against Celtic, Paul McGowan struggles to get among the goals, though his primary concern is to create from deep – a role Hartley specialised in the twilight of his career; Mark O’Hara has reinvented himself in a new, more attacking role but has gone quiet after a blistering start to the season; and Nicky Low has only recently been restored to the line-up but has never really inspired the Dundee support.
Dundee’s back three slowed Celtic down, expertly shutting them out in the first 45 minutes, but with no creativity in midfield and no threat in attack, they never threatened to take anything from the match.
Rodgers has relieved the pressure surrounding the goalkeeper position
After last weekend’s match, Brendan Rodgers was forced to restore Craig Gordon to the starting line-up. Whether this was down to the knock De Vries sustained, or whether he would have done so anyway, it was brave of Rodgers to publically announce that he may have made a mistake in dropping Gordon so soon.
As written in this column last week, Rodgers brought some unnecessary pressure with the decision, though this was pointed out in the context of his spectacular start as Celtic manager, and De Vries has not shown during his stretch as first-choice why he should be selected ahead of Gordon. The Celtic defence is much more settled than it was at this stage last season – a season in which many pointed out that Gordon was not at his best – and this could aid the Scotland international in regaining top form.
Kevin Gomis may be the answer to Dundee’s defensive problems
Defence was a real weak point for Dundee last season. Too many scrappy goals conceded, too many draws that could have been victories – only rivals Dundee United managed less clean sheets. Signed last month, Gomis took his place alongside Darren O’Dea for his debut and presided over their first and only clean sheet of the league across eight matches.
He was sent off late on in his next game versus Kilmarnock, in which they conceded once, meaning he was suspended for their next two. Restored to the starting line-up today, he played his part in an impressive defensive performance from the home side, though his tendency to go to ground to win the ball may prove problematic in future. His challenge to dispossess Dembele in the first half could have resulted in a penalty had his timing or accuracy been off at all. That aside, early evidence suggests he will be a decent signing for Dundee.