Celtic were far too good for an Inverness side who are the only team to have taken points off the champions-elect in the league. Moussa Dembele continues to find the net at an impressive rate, writes Joel Sked, while Scott Sinclair gets some close attention, Nir Bitton is enjoying a renaissance, Foran’s bizarre game plan and robust approach.
Dembele continues to deliver
As the January transfer window edged closer to slamming shut speculation arose that Chelsea were about to try and prise Moussa Dembele from Celtic. Those rumours were fuelled by the striker travelling to London where he would have a scan on an injury. The place he was booked into was, as it turns out, around the corner from Stamford Bridge.
The rumour-mongers went into lightspeed, while Celtic fans were left constantly refreshing the Scotsman’s live transfer blog, scrolling on Twitter and enduring Jim White on Sky Sports News. They had nothing to worry about as it turned out. The striker took to social media to ease any fears and let it be known he was a Celtic player and wouldn’t be leaving. Yet.
Goals 24, 25 and 26 arrived against a hapless Inverness. In the last seven days he has played 112 minutes of football and scored six goals.
All three goals were one touch finishes, such were the positions he found himself in in the box. But it has nothing to do with luck, he reads the game incredibly well, aware of his surroundings, moving into areas which make it easier for wingers to find him. It is no surprise James Forrest is looking a much-improved player.
It is not just the goals but his all-round play. It was his work outside the box which allowed Forrest to set him up for his hat-trick.
In his last three outings Scott Sinclair has had a minder. Everywhere he went they went. If the Englishman moved to the centre his minder went to. If he dropped deep there was his minder alongside him. If he went to the DFS sale he would have been apprehensive that his minder was hiding under a set of cushions.
Aberdeen, St Johnstone and now Inverness have all used man markers against Sinclair. The forward should take it as a compliment, opposition teams clearly recognising the talent he possesses and constant threat he provides.
Without Dembele and Leigh Griffiths last month Rodgers experimented by playing Sinclair in the middle of the attack but it didn’t quite click. He is much more comfortable on the left, driving in field, forming a threatening partnership with Kieran Tierney.
To try and quieten that threat managers have required their right full-back to man mark Sinclair.
The 27-year-old was relatively quiet as David Raven stuck to him like a leech. There were one or two instances when he did get away, skipping past Owain Fon-Williams but too far away from goal in the first half then, in the second half, he looked primed to score only for Raven to make a great challenge (although the ball fell for Dembele to net).
When the game opened up Sinclair was more threatening.
It is a tactic he will likely have to come up against again. It is one slight issue that Rodgers will have to address.
Just when you think you’re out he pulls you back in
A significant number of Celtic players would have expected their future lay elsewhere when Brendan Rodgers walked through the front door of Celtic Park all those months ago. Yet, many of those players are still there, still playing and still improving.
The rise of Stuart Armstrong is the obvious example. Many more are being added to the ‘improved’ portfolio at Lennoxtown.
Rodgers has been full of praise for Dedryck Boyata in recent weeks as he continued to work hard, preparing for his chance. He was given it and has taken it.
Another player to come back into the fold of late has been Nir Bitton. Only 18 months ago he was talked-up as the next player to make a big-money move to the English Premier League. His performances have waned over time and he appeared to be no more than a squad player only a few weeks ago. However, in part to Armstrong’s injury he has come back in and impressed with a number of assured and energetic displays, seemingly buying into Rodgers’ philosophy.
His presence has given Celtic a more stable base and allowed Scott Brown to hunt the opposition.
Liam Henderson has been afforded playing time. He had an excellent cameo against Hearts and was heavily involved during a lot of Celtic’s fine play in Perth last week.
His willingness to get on the ball is admirable but it was a loose and wasteful display against Inverness. Everything he tried just didn’t seem to come off. Although Rodgers will like his approach to playing and he shouldn’t be too down after a difficult afternoon.
Foran’s formation fluster
Other than the decision to man-mark Scott Sinclair and be very aggressive it was difficult to see what the Inverness game plan was at Celtic Park.
Richie Foran brought Billy Mckay back to the Highlands in January. In his previous spell the striker scored 61 goals in 141 games. So the obvious tactic was to play the goalscorer on the left of a front three.
Billy King was on the other wing, against Kieran Tierney, with Henri Anier through the middle. It was a risk to trust King to track Tierney and he was caught sleeping early on before departing in the second half injured or incredibly tired.
Mckay had the inclination to try and play centrally. This opened up acres of space for Mikael Lustig to move into, forcing Greg Tansey to cover which in turn gave Liam Henderson more room in the centre of the pitch.
The biggest issue was James Forrest against Carl Tremarco, who usually plays very high for Inverness. The left-back had no protection and Forrest ran at him time and again. Forrest was involved in five of the six goals, while Lustig, running free, scored the first.
The disorganisation out of possession meant that when Inverness did win it they were all over the place and far too deep to trouble Celtic.
ICT’s robust approach
Richie Foran has had a lot of stern words for his players over the last couple of months. He can’t have too many complaints about his players’ efforts this afternoon, they displayed a competitive attitude. So much so that it often went too far.
The first half was a dull affair. Neither side found any rhythm, which suited the away side. And this was due to the away side as fouls were committed and play broken up. Four players found their name taken by Kevin Clancy in the first half.
Iain Vigurs, not famed for his tackling, was lucky to escape with a booking following a tackle from a behind with an unnecessary scissor motion. Ross Draper charged around leaving his mark on the game. Erik Sviatchenko felt the full force of his quite dominating build, while he flicked a boot at Scott Brown, although it was not severe enough to warrant a red card. Brad McKay was another who made sure opponents knew he was playing.
Inverness have more pressing league matters, a cup exit is not the end of the world. Players have shown they have plenty of ‘fight’ but is there going to be enough quality, on the pitch and from those dictating on the sidelines?