The third matchday of the UEFA Europa League group stage brought together Celtic and Lazio for a high-profile clash. Celtic came into the group as leaders and looking to beat their biggest threats for the top spot. Lazio would be aiming to build on their win over Rennes and grab an away result before the return fixture.
Neil Lennon sent Celtic out in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Fraser Forster was in goal for the hosts. Ahead of him was a four-man backline of Hatem Elhamed, Christopher Jullien, Kristoffer Ajer and Boli Bolingoli. Scott Brown and Callum McGregor were the double-pivot in midfield. Ryan Christie would operate ahead of those two with James Forrest and Mohamed Elyounoussi on the flanks. Spearheading the attack was lone striker Odsonne Édouard.
The visitors were lined up in a 3-5-2 formation by manager Simone Inzaghi. Lazio would have Thomas Strakosha in goal, with a back-three of Bastos, Denis Vavro and Francesco Acerbi. Marco Parolo, Lucas Leiva and Sergej Milinković-Savić were the three in midfield. Out wide would be the wing-backs Manuel Lazzari and Jony. The front-two were Joaquín Correa and Felipe Caicedo.
Lazio in possession
When Lazio were building up with their back three, which would be assisted by Lucas, Lucas would drop the deepest of the midfield three. Milinković-Savić and Parolo would then offer options in more advanced areas. The wing-backs would then be pushed up high, either in line with Lucas or even as high as the front two.
At times, the opposite Lazio wing-back drops when one of the wide centre-backs advanced high up the pitch. This meant Lazio always maintained somewhat of a back three in case of counter-attacks.
During goal-kicks, they would set up their build-up with the two wide centre-backs in the box to make a sort of three with the goalkeeper. Then one would move to the edge of the box to make a 3-1 shape at the back. Lucas would then stay more advanced of the 3-1 while the wing-backs drop back slightly.
Lucas was generally free during build-up but defenders found it difficult to find him. Celtic’s forward players positioned themselves well to cut off the passing lane to the Brazilian. On the occasions that Lazio could find him in space, he managed to switch the play well.
Regarding the front two, they both employed plenty of movement in their play as they would both make runs in behind the defensive line and even out wide to latch onto balls behind Celtic’s defence. Correa would roam around more, sometimes dropping deep into midfield or just off Caicedo. At times, he would even go out wide, usually drifting to the left-hand side where he could cut onto his favoured right side.
Lazio going forward
Lazio would have to deal with Celtic’s 4-4-2/4-2-4 shape when attacking. The wingers would fall back in line with the double-pivot while Christie would then form a two next to Édouard. It would often be one of these two who would initiate press.
This man-orientated press was triggered when the ball went out wide to the centre-back or the wing-back, or if it was returned to Strakosha. When the press was on, the Celtic players would all pick a marking assignment higher up the pitch to try and force long balls from Lazio.
Lazio’s most threatening avenue in attack for most of the game was their counter. During these, they would look for Caicedo and Correa to combine and use their pace to exploit Celtic’s lack of numbers. Milinković-Savić and Parolo supported the counters frequently as well. Lazio would normally be faced with the two centre-backs with the midfielders and full-backs still recovering.
This afforded Lazio with enough room to threaten consistently but only a few concrete chances came off these due to sloppy play. One of the counters in which the forward pair combined well happened to be their opening goal.
Outside of the counter-attacks, a good feature of Lazio’s game was their work in the wide areas. Their width was predominantly provided by their wing-backs. Lazzari and Jony were very adventurous and charged up the wide channels often to get involved. During the build-up, they would be high and wide.
As previously mentioned they would sometimes be in line with Caicedo or even be the furthest forward. The threat of the runs in behind by Lazio players and their positioning, in general, would force the Celtic full-backs to stay quite narrow. This meant that the Lazio wing-backs usually had acres of space to receive the ball.
Once they had it, they didn’t shy away from attacking Celtic players in one-vs-one situations. They weren’t always working in isolation with support from Milinković-Savić and Parolo pulling wide also being an option. Their main goal was to send crosses into the box where Lazio would have plenty of numbers to attack the ball. Caicedo and Milinković-Savić in particularly were viable aerial threats.
Celtic in possession
Celtic would build up with their full-backs pushing up the pitch. Elhamed and Bolingoli would be in line with or even ahead of double-pivot when they advanced. The double-pivot pair of Brown and McGregor would then help the centre-backs to get the ball up the pitch. Once the full-backs went up, one of double-pivot would sometimes move to vacated full-back space while the other shifted more centrally.
This would have Celtic build up in with a three at the back and also open up a vertical avenue to progress the ball along the touchline. Forrest and Elyounoussi would stay pretty wide while Christie moved in the central areas to offer an option between the lines. Édouard mostly stuck next to Lazio centre-backs but at times, would drop deep where he could hold the ball up and link up with teammates.
Lazio would drop into a 3-5-2 shape when defending. Their wing-backs tracked the advancing Celtic full-backs and this would open up space for runs in behind them. Celtic would then have Forrest, Elyounoussi and even Christie make runs into this space. These runs would have to be tracked by either the Lazio midfielders in the ideal scenario or by one of the centre-backs.
The combinations between their wingers and full-backs were particularly fruitful as Lazio struggled to deal with their pace and movement. They just couldn’t produce the types of deliveries from out wide to cause too much danger for the Italian side.
Celtic’s Christie was the game’s standout player and his impact was felt in a few ways. Firstly, his positioning was particularly useful in Celtic progressing the ball. He would operate in the central areas ahead of the double-pivot and could constantly found space to receive the ball.
Christie would also find space in front of the Lazio box to either shoot or spread the ball out wide. In the first half, he hit the post in the first half from one of his long-range strikes. Christie’s passing ability also allowed Celtic to use him in third-man combinations to beat the Lazio press.
The attacking midfielder would also make runs from the central areas into the space behind the Lazio wing-backs. From there he would attempt to deliver crosses into the box. His crossing capabilities were also on display from set-pieces which provided attacking promise throughout the game for the hosts. It was his delivery from a corner which Jullien headed the winning goal from.
Christie managed to get on the scoresheet after a significant 66th-minute substitution by Lennon. Midfielder Tom Rogic came on for Elyounoussi and Édouard moved to the left-wing. Christie began to occupy the striker position as a kind of false-nine while Rogic played in attacking midfield role.
A minute after the change, Édouard on the left then slowly drove into the box to then cross the ball to Christie in space in the box. Christie had dropped off the centre-backs in the box instead of the Édouard’s usual play where he battled the centre-backs.
Later in the contest, Celtic then shifted their positioning again. It was then Bolingoli who provided the width on the left while Christie would play more centrally next to Rogic. Édouard then returned to the striker position.
Lazio will regret the wasted opportunity in this game since they had the lead and chances to increase it. Contrastingly, Celtic will be buoyed by their comeback victory and especially in Christie’s performance. The midfielder, as well as Lennon’s changes, had a strong say in the result. They now sit in a stable position at the top of the group, halfway through the group stage schedule. These sides will face each other again, this time in Italy, during matchday four.
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