Big debut, exciting attack; Celtic Predicted XI v Hearts

By Euan Davidson

January 26, 2022

We like to think positively here, and although Celtic are dealing with a raft of injuries and international call-ups, there is still plenty of talent to beat Hearts.

Yes; Tynecastle is a tricky away day. It’s where Brendan Rodgers’ unbelievable run without defeats as Celtic manager came to an end. Tynecastle has already punished us this season, when an out-of-sorts Celtic, still putting the pieces together under Ange Postecoglou, lost 2-1.

As a stadium, it’s narrow, it’s intense, and the atmosphere carries across the four stands. Of course, now Celtic will have fewer fans in the Roseburn, with the Jambos chiefs hoping that’ll stack the odds in their favour.

Photo by Steve Welsh/Getty Images

Nonetheless, there’s a job to do. And plenty of the requisite quality to do it.

Yes, none of our preferred midfield 3 are available, but some smart recruitment will surely see some exciting options carry the can creatively tonight. Meanwhile in attack, we’re not bereft of options, certainly not to the degree we saw in December.

So, let’s get to it; here’s our Celtic Predicted XI to face Hearts tonight.

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Celtic Predicted XI v Hearts; the defence remains tough

Joe Hart will, undoubtedly, start the game. Tonight his opposite number is an old foe from the Premier League, and an ex-Celt in the form of Craig Gordon. The two have combined for 18 clean sheets this season [SPFL], with Hart out in front with 10 to Gordon’s 8.

The former England keeper will benefit from a settled defence. On the right, Josip Juranovic will be relied upon to bolster central areas, while hopefully improving his delivery from set-pieces. The left side will be patrolled by Greg Taylor, despite Liam Scales’ impressive showing against Alloa.

In the middle, no real surprises either. Cameron Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt look the best choices here, a duo that’s been formidable domestically. Chris Jullien will likely be on the bench, and could see action late on, depending on how the game pans out.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Another new-look midfield for Celtic as Hearts lie in wait

Ange Postecoglou must be tired of having to change his midfield, but here we are again. With McGregor, Ideguchi, Turnbull and Rogic all out, it’s likely to be a trio anchored by Nir Bitton. The Israeli international, played in his preferred position, has put in some excellent performances this season.

The Tynecastle atmosphere won’t bother him a bit. And given his veteran status for Celtic, it’s useful to have him with debutant Matt O’Riley and fellow newbie Reo Hatate.

Hatate doesn’t seem the flappable sort, as his polished display against Hibernian showed. And in fairness, Matt O’Riley doesn’t read as the type who’ll cower under pressure. But it’s a big game for the pair to be thrown into together. The creativity between them is undoubtedly there, and in a game where Celtic might have to share possession a bit more, their incisive passes will be vital.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Finish the Predicted XI strong; Celtic have great attacking options against Hearts

No Kyogo? No problem.

To make his fourth start for Celtic, it’ll be Giorgos Giakoumakis leading the line. Against a pretty impressive, albeit slow Hearts back three, Giakoumakis’ instinct, ability to disrupt defenders and pounce on rebounds and second chances could be utterly crucial.

The Greek striker actually has a pretty decent rate of return for Celtic; he started and scored against both St Johnstone and Alloa in his handful of appearances. Another start and another strike might be exactly what he needs, confidence wise, to finish the season strongly.

On the flanks, there’s temptation to pick Liel Abada. He was excellent against Alloa Athletic and Hibernian. However, for experience and for fitness reasons, we’re going with James Forrest on the right.

Forrest absolutely loves these games. In 30 meetings with Hearts, the Celtic winger has made 13 goal contributions, split between 8 goals and 5 assists [Transfermarkt]. Crucially, he’s only been in 4 losing sides against Hearts. That experience, as well as his obvious talents, could be extremely handy.

The other night, we saw Jota come on and immediately cause problems. What chance of him doing it again tonight? The Portuguese winger looked sharp and full of invention in the latter stages against Alloa. When he’s fit, you just can’t rule the guy out.

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