Monday 19 February 2018

Deila faces Kris Commons dilemma for Maribor play-off

Ronny Deila saw his Celtic team lose to Inverness at the weekend. Photo credit: Jeff Holmes/PA Wire
Ronny Deila saw his Celtic team lose to Inverness at the weekend. Photo credit: Jeff Holmes/PA Wire

Roddy Forsyth

Ronny Deila has been presented with a gnawing dilemma ahead of the return leg of Celtic's Champions League play-off with Maribor tomorrow night.

Deila was at least partly attracted to the job of manager by the chance to play expansive football in the Celtic tradition but in his brief spell in charge the Norwegian has twice played the bold card only to be trumped.

He fielded an open formation against Legia in Poland and saw his players routed 4-1 in a match that, had the Warsaw side not also failed to convert two penalty kicks, would have been irretrievable even by the fielding of an ineligible player by the Poles in the second instalment.

In Inverness on Saturday, Deila made 10 changes to the team that drew 1-1 in Maribor and watched in frustration as a scuffling performance ended in a 1-0 defeat which maintained Caley Thistle's position at the top of the Scottish Premiership after Eoghan O'Connell put through his own goal.

Deila fretted through the proceedings, tinkering with his tactical arrangements and personnel against a Caley Thistle team for whom the term workmanlike should not be considered faint praise.

UEFA's rule book spared Celtic from serious damage against Legia and the gulf in resources between them and every other club in the SPFL top flight will insulate them against occasional setbacks such as that experienced on Saturday.

Maribor were exposed as vulnerable to set pieces in the first leg and, but for goal line clearances, Celtic would have emerged with a 3-1 victory and effectively a place in the group stage draw.

However, Celtic's central defensive partnership of Virgil van Dijk and Jason Denayer is still a work in progress and Deila's instinct to play the pressing game at a fast tempo has to be tempered by the absence of an obvious goalscorer.

In that respect, Kris Commons appears to be caught in a no man's land between his previous role and the manager's desires. Commons was the Scottish Football Writers' Association and SPFA player of the year last season by virtue of the 32 goals which made him top scorer for his club and division. He played throughout the two Champions League qualifiers against KR Reykjavik and for most of both games against Legia but was left out in Maribor.


Commons got 90 minutes in the Highlands but in something approaching the false No 9 role that was short of convincing.

Deila said afterwards that he "sees a role" for Commons against Maribor this time around although what that might be - and for how long - remained unspecific. In the Highlands, Commons supported Leigh Griffiths and Teemu Pukki before the latter two were replaced by Anthony Stokes and Stefan Johansen but the champions' closest call was a shot off the bar from Nir Biton and none of the five attackers made an outstanding case for their inclusion tomorrow night.

Deila is entirely aware of the need for a marksman - and the good fortune Celtic have enjoyed from the recall of Callum McGregor from his loan at Notts County, with the happy consequence of the opening goal in all three away European ties this season. The pursuit of Wakaso Mubarak, the Ghana winger, along with that of Sporting Gijon's Stefan Scepovic, testify to the Hoops' need for a cutting edge.

In the meantime, Celtic plan to surf the fervour of their home crowd while being mindful that Maribor remain capable of executing the sucker punch that could yet deprive their hosts of group stage participation.

"Hopefully we can get the crowd going, spook Maribor a little bit and get at them right from the start," McGregor said.

"We know exactly what we have to do to get the result. All the energy will go into that. We dominated possession in the first half over there but you are always susceptible to the counter attack. We will have a lot of the ball but we just have to be careful we don't get caught by the other side by throwing too many bodies forward at the one time."

Caley Thistle, meanwhile, can bask in the warmth of their first home victory over Celtic since 2011 and another week at the top of the Scottish Premiership, albeit in a situation of the perhaps never to be repeated situation of having Hamilton Accies in second spot.

The centre-back Josh Meekings put it down to the benefits of continuity. "It's helped us not having new guys in," he said.

"Terry Butcher was a bit more direct whereas now we try to keep the ball, play passes and tire people out. It's just a different way of playing but both are effective. It was slightly different against Celtic because they had a lot of the ball but we showed a different side to us - we dug in deep and dealt with the challenges well."

(©Daily Telegraph, London)

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