In this round of Scottish Premiership 2019/20 Celtic beat Aberdeen 2-1 to extend their lead at the top to 10 points. This tactical analysis will break down the tactics used by Neil Lennon. The analysis will also look at how tactically Derek McInnes set up his team for this game.
The two teams come into this game in contrasting form. As Celtic have won their previous 5 games, whereas Aberdeen have only won one game in their last 5. Despite this form, Aberdeen made it a difficult game for Celtic and this tactical analysis will explore why.
For this game, Mclnnes opted for the 4-1-4-1 system. This is because they would look to double up with the wide midfielders and the fullbacks on Celtics wing-backs. The defensive midfielder would then provide cover for the defence while it would enable Niall McGinn and Lewis Ferguson to directly compete with Celtics two central midfielders.
Celtic made a couple of defensive changes but kept with the same 3-5-2 system. It is the formation that has been successful in their last 4 away games. All of which they have won. It has been effective away from home as having wing-backs means they can defend with a five but then also have two players that can break and join the attack. They are also able to do this as the three centre backs enables them to commit men forward and still have numbers back.
From the start of the game, it was evident the tactics the two teams tried to implement. Aberdeen will look to attack Celtic down the sides and work an opportunity to get a cross in. They do this by having a high defensive line. This means they have the majority of their team in Celtics half. As a result, it makes it harder for Celtic to play out of defence.
However Celtic want to try and press Aberdeen in numbers especially out wide to try and force them long. The image below shows five Celtic players pressing intensely in a small area. This type of press is effective as it forces Aberdeen to play it long where Celtic can regain possession. It is also effective as if they win the ball in this position they have five players who can counter-attack quickly.
Celtic takes an early lead
The reigning champions are excellent fast starters with 11 goals in the first 15 minutes. This is the most amounts in the league with Aberdeen second with 8 goals. They added to this tally with a goal in the tenth minute from Callum McGregor. The analysis has mentioned how Aberdeen have a high line to play in Celtics half. This is effective if the defence remains disciplined to their positions and are ready for the long ball in behind.
Nevertheless, as the away side were playing with two forwards it meant they had two players in advanced positions ready to make a run in behind. This is what happens for the first goal as a long ball up to Leigh Griffiths and a defensive mistake allowed the striker to get in behind. Celtic were then able to get number up to support the attack and eventually the move was finished by McGregor. The problem for Aberdeen is that the defence was dragged over to the side by the run of Griffiths. This left space in the middle of the pitch.
This was a problem the home side had all game was their positioning. The image below shows both teams average positions. Notice how far over Ash Taylor(14) and Shay Logan(2) are leaving Scott McKenna (5) isolated. Celtic are also 5 meters wider than Aberdeen again stretching the home side.
How Aberdeen attacked
Derek McInnes has his team set up so they attack down the side and try to get as many crosses in the box as possible. They were good at creating opportunities as they put 18 crosses into the box. This is 10 more than Celtic. However one of their problems was accuracy as only 17% were successful. Part of this was down to the area they crossed from as 93% of their attacks came from the right-hand side.
The home side also struggled to win many ariel duels. Curtis Main only won 35% of his Ariel duels. For the majority of the game, Celtic dominated this battle as both Kristoffer Ajer and Christopher Jullien won over 80% of their Ariel battles.
Nevertheless, despite how well the away side had been doing in this area it was a cross from the right-hand side that made the game 1-1. The goal happened from the second phase of a set-piece as Celtic defended the initial cross well. However, the second cross was missed by both the Aberdeen and Celtic player and fell to Taylor who scored. The image below shows how poor the marking was and how much space he was in.
Where the key battles were
As mentioned before Aberdeen look to get the ball wide and get cross in the box. They wanted to attack Celtic this way as the wide player and full back can double up on Celtics the wing-back. As a result, this meant that a lot of the game was played on the wings. However, to progress forward in these positions, Aberdeen needed to win the ground duels.
The graphics below illustrate were these duels occurred. Despite 49% of them being in Celtics final third they won 50% of the ground duels. Notice that in the second half even though the play was more spread out they cancelled each other out as the midfielder would win the ball back, this lead to Lewis Ferguson having a success rate of 65%. Scott Brown had a success rate of 67%.showing how even it was.
Celtic leaves it late
Tactically Derek McInnes did not do much wrong in this game. His team limited Celtic to few chances and for spells in the game kept the away side back. However, they ultimately did not have the quality at either end of the pitch to stop the Glasgow side. The expected goals chart below shows that despite being in threating positions the home side struggled to create many chances. Their expected goals through the game were practically always half of Celtics even after they had equalised. Aberdeen only had 6 shots all game, Celtic also had 6 shots but created better chances.
Celtic may not have been at their best today but the way Neil Lennon has set up the team and the quality they have they were always likely to create a chance. The goal happened in a similar way to their first as it was a long ball up to the striker who was able to hold the ball up for runners. As the second image below shows Aberdeen made the same mistake as their players moved towards the ball, this left Ajer in space who finished off the chance and the game.
This tactical analysis has looked at how Celtic were able to overcome a difficult game and go 10 points clear at the top of the table. Next up for Celtic is an away trip to FC Copenhagen in the Europa League. The Glasgow side will go into the game with confidence having won their last 9 games in all competitions.
As for Aberdeen they tactically did not do much wrong in this game they ultimately lacked the quality to break Celtic down. Next up for Aberdeen is a cup replay against Kilmarnock. As they are 22 points behind Rangers the cup is the main focus for the rest of the season.