Mohamed Elyounoussi found his career in the doldrums at Southampton last season. Things were going very wrong for the Norwegian, as his club slipped in and out of relegation and he could do literally nothing about it.
In the end, the appointment of Ralph Hasenhuttl salvaged the Saints’ Premier League status. But it didn’t salvage any of Elyounoussi’s reputation. From being a star at Basel, the playmaker had become a subject of ridicule at St.Mary’s. After all, he had big boots to fill – namely, Dusan Tadic’s.
But the Celtic experience has recovered a lot of what was lost for the player. He has played 12 times in all competitions. During this time, he has racked up a tally of seven goals and six assists. In the Scottish Premiership, he has played just six times, but he has a six-goal contribution to his name.
He gives the impression of being a man who is enjoying his football again. He seems free of the pains that restricted him.
Neil Lennon has used Elyounoussi on the left, predominantly. In the 4-2-3-1 shape, that is where the former Basel man has featured in just about every game. In the Europa League, he has had to change positions. Against Lazio in Glasgow, he played as the left midfielder. He played on the right against Cluj but played as the second striker at the Stadio Olimpico against the Biancocelesti (per TransferMarkt).
It is reminiscent of how he was at Basel. In his last season in Switzerland, the £13.5m-rated ace had been involved in 30 goals in 44 appearances in all competitions. Throughout the while, he played as the left-winger or an attacking midfielder. He was given the freedom to create and score.
His most notable performance came against Man City, against whom he scored one and assisted one and helped Basel upset the Champions of England.
It is very similar to what has happened to him this season. He has been the club’s chief creator and in a free-flowing, attacking system, he has found the best of his form.
There is little defensive responsibility on him because Celtic play in a 4-2-3-1. They have two central midfielders in Scott Brown and Callum McGregor who can do the job of cutting off the opposition and simply play the ball forward to the attacking players.
At Southampton, he played in a restrictive and pragmatic system under Mark Hughes. The former Stoke City manager got criticised for not having a specific formation or a set first-team.
The Welshman played a 5-3-2, 4-3-1-2, 4-2-3-1, 3-4-2-1 and a 5-4-1. That never works, if a player wants stability. During this time, Elyounoussi played only seven times in his preferred left-wing position. And because of a lack of planning in tactics, creative players like Elyounoussi struggled. By the time Hasenhuttl came in, the 25-year-old had already lost his place in the first-team.
At Celtic, he is not having to look at Tadic at Ajax and admire his abilities. He is doing what he loves in an attacking system which has seen the Hoops play a consistent shape and style throughout the season. Lennon knows what he is doing, unlike Hughes. Because of that, the players know what jobs they have to do.
And that has sparked Elyounoussi’s revival. Everything is favouring his development, unlike how things were in the South Coast of England.