There are several signs that a critical change has helped Neil Lennon get the Celtic team playing better and winning matches again.
Much has been written about the struggles Celtic have faced so far this season. European football has been largely disastrous, points dropped in league matches have been very disappointing and cup football has been mixed.
It’s odd to think that the The Hoops have already lost their chance to produce a treble trophy win this season. Before they had even confirmed the record-breaking quadruple treble at the weekend after beating Hearts on penalties.
But the win over Lille, some league games and lifting that historic trophy at Hampden has seen a lot of improvement. What’s changed? Well under pressure manager Neil Lennon has made some recent changes to the starting XI. He has freshened up some parts of the team and benched some players who were struggling.
Some fans still demand more and rightfully so. They want even stronger performances, some still want a change of manager and others don’t understand why some team changes hadn’t happened sooner. That may well lead to the point here and the true critical change which is helping Lennon get wins under his belt once again.
Although Celtic have a large squad and there are usually plenty of options when it comes to selecting a starting line-up, it’s not always been as straightforward this season. But over the last couple of weeks we’ve seen a shift. The difference being that within the squad, Lennon now has true competition for places all over the pitch. By dropping players at times, including the likes of Vasilas Barkas, Scott Brown and Odsonne Edouard, the manager has indicated that nobody’s place is safe.
As reported on the club site, Lennon is happy with the progress he saw in the midweek match against Ross County:
“Getting the level of performance and the wins is the aim. We’re just taking it game by game and not getting carried away. I’m very pleased with the performance tonight and the quality of the performance as well. It was a comfortable performance and a really good three points.”
Competition for places has increased heavily now that we see more players available for selection, to start or at least come off the bench. It means we’ve seen Mikey Johnston and Leigh Griffiths pushing for starts alongside Odsonne Edouard, Albian Ajeti and Patryk Klimala.
We’ve seen Ismailia Soro and David Turnbull, both step up with great performances in midfield. Tom Rogic has been back to his old form at times too, alongside Mohammed Elyounoussi who has kept scoring vital goals even if he has gone quiet at times in games too.
In defence the return of Christopher Jullien has provided options and we’ve seen Kris Ajer operating at right-back providing new alternatives. Nir Bitton has provided additional cover in defence or midfield, as needed. Not to mention the rather dramatic but fairly effective use of Conor Hazard in goal. Perhaps the bravery of making changes elsewhere on the pitch encouraged that one too!
With injuries, suspensions, the pandemic and other fitness issues, although Lennon could have tinkered with the team sooner possibly, he certainly didn’t have the depth of options and variables he can call on now. If fans felt some players were a bit lethargic and needing to do more, it seems as though the increased competition for places and the breakthrough of new players into starting positions could be what turns things around for the Hoops’ season.