A large part of the pre match discussion about this tie, the second in the space of a year, was mostly about Celtic’s supposed defensive issues. The other dominating story leading up to this first leg was Rosenborg’s decision to sack Kare Ingrebrigtsen after progressing past Valur in the opening Champions League qualifying round. It took a last minute penalty to put the Icelandic side out, resulting in a dismissal of Ingrebrigtsen, and appointment of Rini Coolen to the RBK hotseat.
Brendan Rodgers had a decision to make before the game, stick with the 3-diamond-3 shape which had been so successful up to this point, or revert to a back four and play a right sided full back.
Jozo Simunovic’s red card in the second leg win over Alashkert meant a shortage of options to play in the three central defensive positions.
Tactical Set Up
Celtic’s shape in the opening exchanges saw a 4-2-3-1 with the ball and dropping into a 4-4-1-1 shape without the ball. This then became a 3-diamond-3 with Gamboa and Sinclair the players either side of Edouard and Forrest central as the tip of the diamond.
The Norwegians’ looked to set up with a 4-3-3 from the off but this could also easily become a back 5 as we seen later in the game.
When out of possession in the early stages Celtic pressed fairly high, with Edouard the lone striker leading the pressure joined by James Forrest who started off central for the Hoops. Callum McGregor occupied the right half space, pressing Rosenborg’s left full back. The left back for Rosenborg had some early success with lofted balls up to Nicklas Bendtner, who was always favourite in the air against Jack Hendry.
This allowed RBK to bring the ball down and progress their attacks in the Celtic half at pace. Pal Andre Helland, on the left side positioned himself quite narrow allowing any Bendtner knock downs or combinations to give him space inside.
Where Celtic were particularly interesting early on was down the right side, with McGregor and Forrest both occupying central areas, it left Cristian Gamboa as the width on the right side. Gamboa however failed to ever really break the Norwegians line and instead chose to come back inside, looking for combinations with McGregor, and at times Jack Hendry who had advanced looking for an opening.
Celtic in possession, Odsonne Edouard occupying space on the wide left area, allowing Scott Sinclair to come inside to join in any potential combination play, with James Forrest as the most central player.
Edouard drifted a lot during the first half, being isolated through the middle he moved deep and wide to get more involved in the play.
Rosenborg were quick in the transition but when any potential attack developed, rather than cross into the box for Bendtner, they opted to go down the side and look for either an overlap or a combination to get them into the hosts penalty box.
The two central midfielders, Lundemo and Mike Jensen, were restricted in their accessible options due to the pressing of Celtics advanced midfield players, and the screen provided by Olivier Ntcham and Scott Brown. This forced Rosenborg wide at times, but their reluctance to put any crosses into the box gave them a passive attacking threat.
Celtic’s high defensive line, with all outfield players at this point in the RBK half.
The risk that comes with such an approach, Jack Hendry is dispossessed by Mike Jensen in the final third, allowing RBK to counter. Cristian Gamboa loses his man Birger Meling, who puts the Norwegians ahead.
The Celtic boss clearly seen enough in the first half to alarm him, deciding to switch to a 4-3-3 after half time. This allowed Tierney to advance and join Sinclair with opportunities for 2v1 situations or left half space combinations.
Clearly with Tierney being part of the three central defenders in the first half, this limited the options available to Scott Sinclair on the left side. This made his participation in the game minimal with him coming inside to get more involved in quick combinations and look to play through the last line of defence.
The most notable switch, however, was Olivier Ntcham, playing further forward and giving him access to the Rosenborg defensive block. He had a clear sight of the back line and a sight of goal.
The switch paying off moments into the second half, as Callum McGregor’s short pass to Ntcham allowed him to sidestep his man and curl Celtic into the lead.
More noticeable in the second half was the advanced position of Kieran Tierney, joining in attacking play and becoming an option on the left sided half space.
Rosenborg retreated during this good second half spell for the Hoops into a medium block, which allowed Celtic to continue their deep build up play. Scott Brown at times dropped fairly deep which took Nicklas Bendtner with him, then opening up access for the likes of McGregor or Ntcham to get on the ball in the central area.
The role of Ntcham
Olivier Ntcham was dubbed after Celtic’s 5-0 win over Astana last August as a ‘destroyer’ in their midfield. He has taken on a role of similar proportion in his first season at the club, however his overall footballing qualities cannot be overlooked.
Regularly deployed in a double pivot with Scott Brown, Ntcham has become more of a deep lying playmaker. The switch to 4-3-3 against Rosenborg and the decision to push the Frenchman further forward brought him into the game in more advanced positions, allowing him to pop up on the left half space and form triangles with Tierney and Sinclair.
He also dropped back when Celtic were in their defensive shape, forming a solid screen with the captain Scott Brown. While Ntcham doesn’t drop into a back three and take the ball from the goalkeeper, he will take it from the second line to the third, and create space for people. This is a role of huge importance given he can then become more involved in the play in attacking areas, looking to create penetrative situations with the likes of McGregor, Rogic and Forrest.
Pressure effective for Celtic
Since Brendan Rodgers became Celtic boss back in 2016, his time in Glasgow has seen a lot of tactical changes and evolution. His switch to a 3-4-2-1 or 3-diamond-3 which led the club to a second successive treble last season, is a change on his 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 set up from his first season. One thing remains however, and is a hallmark of all Rodgers’ teams, Pressing.
At 2-1 in the game Celtic looked to continue their high pressure and find a third goal which could potentially kill off the Norwegian champions.
Rosenborg trying to build the game from deep, Celtic pressing inside the penalty box with 4 against the 3 of RBK.
When Celtic did win the ball back through their press, they had good options centrally with McGregor and Ntcham, also down the Gamboa/Forrest right or the Sinclair/Tierney left. Rosenborg switched between 4-3-3 and a back three but they really struggled to play through Celtic’s press and keep any sort of possession in the later stages of the game.
Celtic’s counter pressing ensured if they did win the ball it was for only a matter of seconds.
For the third goal, Celtic allow Rosenborg to bring the ball out, only springing a press once they advance slightly into their half. This allows a bit of scrappy play which is latched onto by James Forrest who feeds Edouard to finish for his second goal of the night. The Norwegians started to lose their way a little towards the end of the game, losing possession cheaply and looking vulnerable to players like Tom Rogic picking them off in the final third.
For Rini Coolen’s first game in charge Rosenborg showed enough to be optimistic going forward. Outdone tactically in the end but the Dutchman will believe with work on the training ground, that the fluency and cohesion will fall into place. The second leg might prove too difficult for them as Rodgers and his men will fancy their chances of a goal in Trondheim.
Celtic have notoriously been slow burners in the Champions League qualifiers with draws and narrow wins, but the tactical changes made by Rodgers shows his ability to turn a game on it’s head and the signs are again promising for Celtic. Players returning from the World Cup, injury and suspension over the course of the next few weeks will give the club hope that this performance is the start of another successful campaign.