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‘COPY CAT’ LENNON’S DEBT TO ANTONIO CONTE

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NEIL LENNON admits the influence of former Chelsea manager Antonio Conte persuaded him to try The Italian Job at Celtic.

The Hoops boss changed the playing system to 3-5-2 after the turn of the year following a disappointing display in the 2-1 defeat against Rangers at Parkhead on December 29.

The loss – the first to the Ibrox side in the east end of Glasgow in nine years – prompted the 48-year-old Irishman into a rethink of his tactics – and he looked in the direction of ex-Italian international gaffer Carlo.

Lennon, speaking to the Sunday Mail,  said: “I like the formation. I used to watch Antonio Conte’s teams a lot and they always used it. We played against his Juventus side in the Champions League when they beat us.

“Bayer Leverkusen also played a back three at Ibrox a few weeks ago, which was interesting – it’s not all 4-3-3 nowadays.

“I think Brendan Rodgers had it in mind to play Odsonne Edouard with Moussa Dembele up top and he did it a couple of
times before 
Dembele left.

“The lads had tried it a few times under Brendan, so that entered into my thinking.”

ONE THAT GOT AWAY…Leigh Griffiths misses a right-wing cross in the 5-0 romp against St Mirren.

Lennon’s switch in thinking immediately gave Edouard a striking partner up top in the rejuvenated Leigh Griffiths and both have looked sharpt playing alongside each other.

The champions were averaging over three goals per game in 2020 before the game was brought to an abrupt halt by the coronavirus outbreak that has put football worldwide in cold storage.

Ironically, Griffiths fired in an unstoppable treble and Edouard supplied a sublime effort in the 5-0 victory over St Mirren – Callum McGregor got the fifth from the penalty spot – before the unscheduled interruption on the team’s charge towards a ninth successive title.

Lennon praised the double-act and added: “It’s fair to say they’ve done all right together.

“I was delighted when they both got on the scoresheet against St Mirren, with Leigh getting a hat-trick. I knew how much that meant to him. He’s nearly there.

“You tend to find that clever players are on the same wavelength – it’s something you can’t coach.

“They’re linking up by making
split-second decisions on the pitch and it’s not something I would take credit for.

“We do work on combinations occasionally, but, ultimately, it’s down to them. Griffiths is a bit of an enigma – but he’s a goalscorer and always a threat.

FRENCH FANCY…Odsonne Edouard works his magic against the Saints.

“I like the 3-5-2 formation – I like it because it works. But you have to roll the dice sometimes and it wasn’t simply a case of saying: ‘We’ll give 3-5-2 a go today’.

“We put a lot of work into it.

“It was in my mind as I felt we were starting to look a bit stale – plus I like playing with two strikers.

“We’ve just had to be patient with Leigh while he had to knuckle down and show the right desire. I believe there’s more still to come from him in terms of fitness.

“But he’s a natural-born scorer and
you can’t buy that – plus I thought the formation would suit us.

“It’s brought the best out of Odsonne, as well. He’s a top player and having Leigh beside him has taken off him a little bit of the workload.

“Once he fully matures physically, he’ll be a proper No.9 in his own right

“He’s only just turned 22 and there’s growth still to come from him but he’ll be the main striker during his peak years.

“Plus our midfield is as good as anyone’s with a combination of Scott Brown,
Callum McGregor, Ryan Christie, Tom Rogic, Olivier Ntcham and Nir Bitton.”

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About Author

Editor

Acclaimed author Alex Gordon wrote the biography of Scotland international legend Denis Law, entitled 'King and Country'. He is a former columnist with World Soccer magazine and Scottish correspondent of respected European journal L'Equipe.

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