Celtic responded to Rangers' emphatic win the previous day with a comfortable win of their own.
With Joe Ledley missing, Neil Lennon opted to move Scott Brown into a central role and go with two wingers. Kris Commons played his usual role of switching between wide and central positions with James Forrest more of an out-and-out winger. Commons began on the left but was moved to the right, with Forrest switching to the left, after less than ten minutes. The pair switched once again at the start of the second half. Antony Stokes was restored to the starting line up and was the more advanced of the front two with Gary Hooper in a deeper role than he is known for.
Dundee United were at full strength and began in their usual 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation with a fluid midfield five. They pushed their full-backs on and attempted to attack from the off, rather than soaking up pressure like most teams that visit Celtic Park do.
The match began with both sides displaying equal amounts of stray passes and quick, intricate periods of possession. After the first goal, which involved a shocking error from Garry Kenneth and some excellent link up play from Stokes and Hooper, Dundee United became impotent as an attacking threat and only began to threaten again when they conceded a second and introduced Johnny Russell from the bench.
Celtic were outnumbered by three to two in the centre of the pitch but a few different reasons negated this. Firstly, Scott Brown and Beram Kayal put it excellent performances, especially in a defensive sense. The tenacity of the pair and their constant harrying meant that Dundee United struggled to work the ball through the centre of the pitch.
Secondly, Celtic’s strategy was to move the ball quickly to Forrest and Commons and push the full-backs on. With their height disadvantage in attack, they then focused on working the ball across the goal in the form of cut backs and low, driven crosses.
One final reason was that the positions of Commons and Hooper meant that, at times, Celtic did have a third man in the centre of the pitch.
Relatedly, Mark Wilson and Emilio Izaguirre were back to their attacking best. In recent matches, Wilson has, through design or necessity, found himself staying back more often than not, while some sides have managed to lessen the threat of Izaguirre. On Sunday, however, both managed to get forward on a number of occasions, provide support to the attack and put in dangerous crosses.
This had the knock on effect of causing the Dundee United wingers, Danny Swanson and Craig Conway, to track back more often than they would have liked, leaving Daniel Majstorovic and Charlie Mulgrew to deal with the isolated David Goodwillie.
Both managers made substitutions that made an impact on the game. After going 2-0 down, Peter Houston replaced Prince Bauben and Danny Swanson with Jon Daly and Johnny Russell and moved to a 4-4-2.
Dundee United instantly improved which was evidenced when Russell cut inside from the right wing and struck the post with a left foot strike. Russell wasted another chance when he decided to go for goal rather than squaring it to Goodwillie for a tap-in. Russell eventually scored in injury time but by that time it was too late and his side were three goals behind.
Lennon responded to the Dundee United substitutions by introducing Ki Sung-Yeung for Forrest and moving Brown to his, now familiar, tucked-in right sided role in a lopsided 4-4-2. It was now Celtic who had the man advantage in the centre of the park and the presence of Ki meant that they were able to utilise possession better and slow the pace of the game down.
A further substitution on seventy-five minutes saw Shaun Maloney replace Hooper and take up a trequartista role. Again this helped Celtic retain possession with the added bonus of a third goal which Maloney provided the assist for.
One final substitution for Celtic saw Brown withdrawn to be replaced by Daryl Murphy. Murphy restored Celtic’s three goal advantage with a fine solo effort in the final minute of injury time.