It will be interesting to see how Rodgers assesses the full-backs over the coming weeks as this will give further insight into how he wants his team to play the second time around.
Under Ange Postecoglou, Celtic adopted the ultra-modern approach of playing with inverted full-backs. It brought about a style of play that was new to Celtic and Scottish football and, after a short period of adaptation, helped bring a lot of success to the club.
For players like Greg Taylor and Anthony Ralston, the new role Ange brought to the full-back position reinvigorated their careers. Both players bought into Ange’s philosophy and thrived under the increased responsibility of the inverted position.
Rodgers, however, prefers a more traditional full-back whose focus is on getting up and down the line, rather than coming infield to help build attacks. How the Northern Irishman sets his full-backs up in the pre-season friendlies will offer some insight into just how far he will veer away from Ange’s inverted full-back system.
Celtic’s wide defenders may well prove to be the players most affected by Rodgers’ appointment as Celtic manager and here is what we think it could mean for them.
The Canadian has taken to life at Celtic like a duck to water, and as a result, the fans have responded with open arms as the 24-year-old has quickly become a fan favourite. A consistent 7/10 every week and a tendency for a crunching tackle led to the Canadian international becoming a key player since his January arrival.
One of the first names on the team sheet under Ange, Johnston has already helped himself to 3 winners’ medals in 6 months at the club.
If Rodgers decides to have his full-backs staying wide and hitting the byline instead of coming inside, Johnston may be the least affected of Celtic’s wide defenders. Although comfortably on the ball and a good passer, Johnston didn’t come as central as the likes of Taylor or even Bernabei on the left.
Instead, Johnston often maintained a wider position on the right enabling him to carry the ball forward for the team. His skill set is likely to make him exactly the type of player that will thrive in a Rodgers team and, in our opinion, we can only see him continuing his upwards trajectory at Celtic in the coming years.
The 2022/23 season was a strange one for the Celtic Academy product. Injuries early in the season meant minutes were hard to come by for the 24-year-old, and unlike the previous season, he did not always cover himself in glory when those minutes did come.
As one of the main players buying into Ange’s philosophy from day one, Ralston made enormous progress during the first season of the Australian’s tenure. His game improved exponentially as he went from a Celtic outcast to a fully-fledged Scotland internationalist.
However, towards the tail-end of last season, Ralston looked a shadow of his former self. It looked like the time out of the team had taken its toll with his positioning, passing and general system play all looking disjointed. Ralston will need some big improvements under Rodgers to get back to the high standards he had previously set for himself.
How Greg Taylor is viewed, and the role he is asked to perform, by Brendan Rodgers will be one of the more intriguing stories to keep an eye on in the first few months of the Northern Irishman’s second tenure at the club.
Taylor thrived under Ange Postecoglou’s system, becoming one the most improved and most important players in the Celtic team.
As far as ACSOM contributor Kevin McCluskie is concerned, Taylor’s performances over the past season had done enough to merit serious consideration as a Player of the Year candidate. During the 2022/23 season, Taylor contributed 3 goals and 5 assists and was instrumental in ensuring Ange’s style of play worked.
With Rodgers likely to revert back to a more traditional style of play for this full-backs, Taylor may have to re-invent himself again. However, he has become a much smarter and more technical player under Postecoglou’s tutelage and Rodgers would be foolish not to use these attributes to his and Celtic’s advantage
The Argentine has endured a tough start to life at Celtic and as mentioned in a previous article, this season is make or break for the Argentine.
Ange’s departure and the re-appointment of Brendan Rodgers may raise questions over the suitability of other full-backs to fit into the new man’s way of thinking, however, for Bernabei, it may be exactly what he needs to kick start his Celtic career.
Bernabei’s strongest qualities clearly lie in his attacking play, with his raw pace and ball progression abilities meaning he could potentially see a new lease of life under Rodgers. As noted earlier, Rodgers likes to see his full-backs hitting the byline and staying wider, traits that the Argentine shows in his play.
It may be a wild remark, but should Rodgers look to recreate his first Celtic team, then Bernabei could find himself in the Kieren Tierney role as an attacking, up-and-down-the-line full-back.
Having paid over £3.5 million to sign him last summer, Celtic will be looking for a return on their investment soon, one way or the other. It’s all on the Argentine to prove his worth and that Celtic is his home.
Looking at the options available in the full-back positions, it would appear that Celtic’s first choice options on both flanks are strong; Johnston and Taylor. There are question marks over whether Ralston and Bernabei could step in on a permanent basis if either first-choice player was out for a prolonged period of time. However, unless Rodgers can find a world-class full-back to improve on what we have, bringing in another player in this area is not a priority this summer…come January, it may be a different story.
James McKenzie / Kevin McCluskie