What will Celtic do with four strikers?

By Thomas DuncanBBC Scotland
Celtic boss Neil Lennon has the option to play the 3-5-2 formation that brought success last season
Celtic boss Neil Lennon has the option to play the 3-5-2 formation that brought success last season

Odsonne Edouard is Celtic's undisputed first choice up front, but with a further three strikers now in their ranks how might their attack look this season?

New arrival Albian Ajeti adds to existing striking options Patryk Klimala and Leigh Griffiths, but who will be the preferred choice to partner Edouard? Is the Frenchman better off with support?

BBC Scotland takes a look at manager Neil Lennon's options.

One or two up front?

With Edouard the king of Celtic's attack, the pertinent question is whether he will find himself playing alongside another forward regularly.

The switch to 3-5-2 from January last season proved fruitful for Celtic, as they dropped just two points in 10 games and averaged over three goals per match.

Former Scotland forward James McFadden explains why playing with a partner benefits Celtic's star man.

"Edouard's a terrific player and because of that he gets special treatment," he told BBC Scotland.

"Sometimes it's two or three men marshalling him, so to bring another striker in brings another problem for a defence. I think Neil Lennon would always prefer to play with two strikers."

However, playing two central strikers disrupts the positioning of other players in Celtic's attack, most notably the wide men.

"You've got the problem of where do [Mohamed] Elyounoussi and James Forrest go? If Forrest plays wing-back, then Jeremie Frimpong's left out," McFadden says.

"It's not so clear cut on the left, I don't think Elyounoussi would be asked to play at wing-back. So I think it brings its own problems in other areas.

"The good thing for Celtic is they've got so many good attacking options that they can be very fluid and change whenever they need, and that's a massive bonus because it means that teams are going to struggle to prepare against you because they don't know how you'll line up."

A shortage of options at centre-back might also hamper the use of 3-5-2, which is perhaps why Lennon has made it clear it is an area the club are looking to strengthen.

What do Ajeti and Klimala bring?

So if Edouard does play with a partner regularly, who is best suited to play the role?

Switzerland striker Ajeti signed from West Ham for £4.5m after a disappointing one-year spell in the Premier League. However, he comes with good pedigree after registering 43 goals and 21 assists in 96 appearances with Basel.

The 23-year-old described himself as "hard working" and "strong", adding he loves physical contact. Those attributes will suit the Premiership and help occupy defenders to help Edouard use his intelligent movement to exploit space. Ajeti's finishing ability demonstrated in his homeland also suggests he will chip in with his fair share of goals.

"I don't have any problem playing in a two or a three or on my own," he said on his arrival at Celtic. "I've played in many different systems. The most important thing is to attack and that's why this is the perfect club for me."

Despite being at the club for seven months, it is arguable Klimala is a lesser-known quantity than Ajeti. He had limited game time during the second half of the shortened 2019/20 campaign after signing from Jagielliona in his native Poland, but said last month he used lockdown to bulk up.

Increased physical strength will bolster his hold-up play and ability to make an impact in Scotland, plus training alongside Edouard for half a year may have helped forged an understanding to some degree.

The 22-year-old looked sharp in pre-season and scored after coming off the bench in the opening win against Hamilton, but he may find himself as third choice again after Ajeti's long-awaited arrival.

Does Griffiths still have a place?

It was the return of Griffiths to partner Edouard which helped spark Celtic's rich vein of form from January, as he added seven goals and three assists in the club's final 10 league matches.

His partnership with the Frenchman was fruitful, if sometimes unnatural given their similar styles, but after Lennon refused to take him on the pre-season trip to France after he reported for pre-season overweight, he has slipped down the pecking order.

The public dressing down he got from his manager has seemingly sparked a response, but Griffiths has started the season behind Klimala and missed the draw with Kilmarnock with a calf strain, and will not play against Reykjavik either. With Ajeti's arrival, the Scotland striker probably sits as fourth choice. Will he be content with that?

It will take a lot of hard work to regain Lennon's trust and confidence, but in his favour is a strong domestic scoring record, having netted over 100 goals for the club.

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