Lustig backs Lennon's shape shifters to get back on track

MIKAEL Lustig today appealed to Celtic gaffer Neil Lennon not to abandon the three-man backline he blamed for the painful defeat to Hibernian.

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Lustig believes Celtic have the ability to adapt
Lustig believes Celtic have the ability to adapt

Lennon sent his team out with a 3-4-3 formation at Easter Road on Saturday – and looked on from the dugout in despair as they crashed to a shock 1-0 loss.

The defence appeared uncomfortable with the switch and Leigh Griffiths capitalised on that and netted what proved to be the winning goal early in the first half.

After they had reverted to their more familiar 4-4-2 line-up, the Scottish champions dominated the SPL game.

With remarkable and refreshing honesty, Hoops boss Lennon afterwards admitted his initial set-up was responsible for the narrow reverse.

"The three didn't really work for us," he confessed. "I was disappointed with my own formation so I will take the blame for it. I chose the wrong one.

"Once I changed it and we went to a flat back four we were more comfortable. For 70-odd minutes we controlled the game."

However, Lustig feels the Scottish champions need to be able to play in a variety of different formations in order to grow as a team.

And he believes operating with a three-man rearguard could help Celtic record their first win of 2013 against Motherwell at Parkhead today.

"When we have played three at the back in the past, especially at home, I think it has worked really well," the Swedish internationalist said.

"Against Hibs, we didn't find our positions after the game started. The manager saw that and he changed it. After that things got better for us.

"Playing with four at the back is far simpler and I think most of the players in the team are more confident when that is the way we set up.

"I'm certainly more confident playing in a four-man backline. But to be a better team I think it is good to be able play with both a three and a four-man defence.

"I think the three is probably better utilised in our home games because we dominate matches more, get forward more and there is not as much pressure on the defence."

Juventus, who Celtic will play in the Champions League last 16 next month, are a classic example of a top European club that enjoys success by changing formation.

Manager Antonio Conte, who usually sets the Serie A champions and current league leaders up with a three-man defence, has the personnel at his disposal to change his team's shape to suit the opposition.

But Conte is also renowned for tinkering with how the Turin side play during the course of 90 minutes; his team can change from a 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 as a match is being contested.

And Lustig, who has firmly established himself as first-choice right-back at Parkhead in recent months thanks to an impressive run of form, believes Celtic must also learn to be flexible in order to improve. He said: "I think if we want to be a really good team, both domestically and in the Champions League, it is important to be able to play in different styles.

"To do that you need to have smart players, but we certainly have plenty of intelligent individuals, in every position on the park too, here at Celtic.

"I am sure we will continue to play with three at the back in the future in the SPL, despite the result at the weekend, and will grow and improve as a team as a result of that."

Celtic manager Lennon is keen for his side to build up a commanding lead in the SPL during their extended break from Champions League football.

However, the loss to Hibs meant that Inverness Caley Thistle and Motherwell, who drew with St Johnstone away and Kilmarnock at home respectively at the weekend, moved closer to them.

The Hoops, who have a game in hand still to play, are now just six points clear of their nearest challengers at the top of the league table.

Lustig, though, is unconcerned at the defeat at the weekend and is confident his side can return to winning ways when they play Stuart McCall's side this afternoon.

He added: "There is no need for us to panic. We are a massive club and when we fail to win a game a lot is always made of it.

"The game against Hibs was just one of those ones where we couldn't put the ball in the back of the net. It happens in football. We certainly created a lot of chances.

"It is pretty unusual for us not to score goals (they had failed to hit the target in two of their 24 domestic fixtures – in the league defeats to Inverness and Kilmarnock at home – before the weekend ).

"Every outfield player in the teams is capable of getting his name on the scoresheet whenever we take to the field. We can certainly score against Motherwell this afternoon.

"We have done pretty well in the league and the cups in Scotland and also, of course, in Europe this season. We are still the same team we were. Hopefully we can get back to our best against Motherwell."

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