Lennon must hold Celtic’s fan favourites accountable for UCL exit

Celtic's manager Neil Lennon gestures on the touchline during the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round second leg match at Celtic Park, Glasgow. (Photo by Jane Barlow/PA Images via Getty Images)
Celtic's manager Neil Lennon gestures on the touchline during the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round second leg match at Celtic Park, Glasgow. (Photo by Jane Barlow/PA Images via Getty Images) /

New season, same old problems

Already Celtic’s season can be described as a failure, with good reason. Last year’s disappointment in the UCL qualifiers was relived as Neil Lennon and the ‘Bhoys’ were defeated at home by CFR Cluj-Napoca. The rollercoaster second leg in Glasgow showed that Celtic have a talented squad that lacks maturity. Even the experienced players at the club have little knowledge of how to see-out a lead. A crucial takeaway for Lennon is that Celtic’s fan favourites must be held to the same accountability as every other player.

The Celtic boss switched things up for the second leg. And while a new formation saw the Celts dominate with possession, it was Lennon’s individual player picks that made Celtic their own worst enemy. The decision to move Callum McGregor over to the left side of the field proved to be the mistake that gave Cluj an opening for attack. Although the Romanian side saw very little of the ball, any opportunity they did have came due to individual errors from McGregor.

The most shocking thing about Lennon’s decision to play McGregor as a left wing-back is the fact that Boli Bolingoli, Celtic’s new £3million left-back, was dropped to the bench. So was Christopher Jullien who was also signed in the summer for £7million. Leaving out Jullien has left question marks around Lennon’s tactics as it was, once again, problems in defence that spoiled Celtic’s party.

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The entire first half was extremely underwhelming by the Scottish champions as they found it difficult to move the ball forward into the final third. From the get-go, it was noticeable that Olivier Ntcham was the only Celtic player that knew how to turn defence into attack. Constant sideways passing put Celtic Park on edge as it looked as though they could lose the ball at any moment. The sloppy passing from Scott Brown and Callum McGregor was enough on its own to suggest that Celtic are not Champions League material.

Although Celtic’s attacking threat improved in the second half, their defensive mistakes remained prevalent as every goal conceded seemed easily preventable. Both Odsonne Edouard and Ryan Christie moved up a gear as their slick one-two’s proved to be too much for Cluj to handle. Edouard changed the game with a brilliant dummy that allowed James Forrest to score, as well as slotting away a goal for himself.

The moment Celtic restored the lead, all was calm. The Scottish champs won’t mess up from here…wrong! The Hoops captain, Scott Brown, single-handedly ruined 2019 for Celtic. A needless and foolish handball in the box gave Cluj the opportunity to put themselves back into the drivers’ seat. Unfortunately for Brown, Cluj converted from the stop to send shockwaves around Celtic Park.

That was simply to the beginning of the drama, as more goals from Celtic and Cluj resulted in the game finish a hefty 4-3 to Cluj on the night. It will be interesting to see how the poor performances from the likes of Brown and McGregor will influence Lennon’s team selections in the future. For some reason Brown, McGregor and Forrest are not held to the other Celtic players. Very rarely do we now see any of these three players stand out on the pitch. Yet, Neil Lennon almost never rotates them.

There are plenty of players that deserve to be given their opportunity in the starting eleven, but they do not receive it because of this double standard. If Bitton, Ntcham, Boli Bolingoli or Scott Sinclair displayed performances like that of Brown’s in the second leg then they would be transfer listed.

The Celtic boss’s choice to never drop Celtic’s fan favourites is not justifiable. Being that they are fan favourites, not for their talent…but because of their loyalty to the club, it does not mean that they shouldn’t have to fight for their place.

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There is a lot of promise in this young Celtic team. But the only way to develop the entire squad is by holding everyone to the same standard. If McGregor plays over 60 games again this season, you can be sure that something is wrong.