Celtic were worthy of their history
Celtic meant business from the off. They played with control, tenacity and verve. Brendan Rodgers’ men were simply too much for Stephen Robinson’s Motherwell to handle.
The totems of the side, Scott Brown and Kieran Tierney, looked like men possessed. In this mood they were not going to be beaten. Brown put in a dominant display, showing why he was awarded every individual gong going. At this rate he’ll be picking up a Golden Globe and Nobel Prize next.
As for Tierney he scuttled back and forth with quality, with a swagger which surged through the league champions. It hasn’t been a tremendous season by Tierney’s lofty standards but he is still better than most. At Hampden he gave a reasonable answer to the Robertson v Tierney debate.
Back three worked for Celtic
One of the talking points coming into the match was whether Celtic would go for a back three or a back four. Rodgers opted for the former and it couldn’t have worked out better. Kieran Tierney and James Forrest stretched the play, opening up the Hampden pitch.
There was an abundance of space for Tom Rogic and Callum McGregor to work in between the lines. It was obvious that it was going to be tricky for Motherwell from the early proceedings. To negate the space the defence and midfield had to be compact.
Yet Motherwell’s midfield trio were too often getting drawn towards Scott Brown and Olivier Ntcham who in turn were quick to shift it.
Carl McHugh in particular had a trying afternoon as McGregor and Rogic bamboozled with their movement. It was no surprise they switched to a diamond to try and combat Celtic.
McGregor’s goal was sensational and showed a player who is continuing to develop, one who possesses awareness and football intelligence in spades. He is so alert and that could be seen with the goal. As for the finish, out of this world.
Ntcham’s wasn’t bad either, even if it did take a nick on the way in.
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Motherwell lacked controlling presence
Stephen Robinson understandably opted for energy in the midfield with McHugh, Allan Campbell and Liam Grimshaw but Celtic matched them all the way in terms of battling and physical qualities.
McHugh and Grimshaw were rabbits caught in the headlights, leaving Campbell to fight, track and tackle manfully. He was excellent in the opening stages.
The trio did a lot of running but seen little of the ball. This left Ryan Bowman and Curtis Main chasing hopeful punts or passes into the final third. Main, in particular, was marshalled well by the classy Kristoffer Ajer.
It was only when Gaël Bigirimana replaced McHugh that the Steelmen gained a bit of guidance in midfield, someone with a bit of composure. But it was too late.
Moussa Dembele was left frustrated by an excellent double save from Trevor Carson. But his all round play was excellent up against a trio of centre-backs before Motherwell changed formation
Despite the evidence he continues to display in big matches there is still a feeling Celtic would be just as good with Leigh Griffiths, especially domestically. Griffiths is very good. Dembele, however, is a step above.
Like all of Rodgers’ trusted players he has that awareness and intelligence needed to analyse not just his own game but those of others around him. His running and strength unnerved the Well defenders and his touch was so assured allowing him to bring team-mates into play.
He acted more as a facilitator in this encounter. But in the modern game that is as important as going for the glory yourself.
Motherwell will come again
This is not the end for this Motherwell side. They are too determined, too professional for that. There is more to come from the Steelmen with plenty of raw talent throughout the squad.
Yet they require refinement. A few times this season they’ve been found wanting when their up-an’-at-em, direct, aggressive approach has not been effective. It can leave the team looking very stodgy and lacking creativity.
Work has already begun for next season and Stephen Robinson won’t want to stray too far from the ethos which has taken the club to two cup finals and excited throughout the season. But they need more strings to their bow.
The foundations are there, they kept a club record 20 clean sheets this season, they just need to build on them, and they could look a good bet for a top six finish next campaign and perhaps a trophy.