Being a Celtic supporter has felt a little better recently. Only a month ago, when we were being taken apart by Sparta Prague (BBC), the Scottish Cup Final felt like a bit of a chore. It was less an exciting thought than one that brought either dread or apathy.
Two impressive wins later, Hampden calls and Celtic look as ready as ever. Those victories came in large part to Neil Lennon using his squad, a renewed sense of defensive confidence and tactical exploration.
There’s a great deal of talk about Scott Brown’s place in the team, but that issue serves only as a distraction. Broony or no Broony, Neil Lennon has to win this game. His job, still on the brink, depends on a result here. You might expect he’d want to stick with what works, only with a couple of tweaks.
Assuming anything about Celtic over the last couple of months has been a fruitless endeavour. That said, I will; I’m assuming that the successful shape used against Kilmarnock will be utilised against Hearts. Let’s see how that might look.
Hazard and a back 3 for Celtic
Northern Irish international Conor Hazard hasn’t really been tested. During his two games for Celtic’s first team, there was little he could do to in preventing Lille scoring twice, while Killie didn’t threaten extensively. Hearts, however, could be a very different prospect.
With Liam Boyce in the form of his life, and further threat from Jamie Walker and Steven Naismith, it could be a harder outing for Hazard. There’s little doubt he’ll have to make some saves on Sunday.
Just in front of him, Ajer, Jullien and Duffy look nailed-on to keep their places in a back 3. While the trio have performed embarrassingly on a few outings, Lennon seems to have the balance right. With Ajer on the right of a triumvirate, the whole defence looks more confident.
Duffy, for his part, was excellent last week. Jullien tucked away Celtic’s first against Kilmarnock, and it’d be very strange not to see them keep their places. Depth is sorely needed, but for Sunday, this looks like the 3 that’ll start the Cup Final.
A midfield five with a twist
It’s opinions you like, is it? Well, here goes:
Soro deserves to start.
Yep, I said it. The Ivorian has changed the way Celtic have looked since getting the nod against Lille. With his energy, strength in the tackle and pace, he’s everything Celtic need in a modern defensive midfielder. That said, Broony should play some of the match. If Celtic need him, he’ll be on the bench.
Provided we win the thing, it’ll be Brown lifting the trophy. He’s an intelligent enough player to understand the situation, and committed enough not to make a fuss. Much like this lesson was learned by Lennon himself (Daily Record), Brown will recognise the situation.
Not playing Brown isn’t a personal slight against him. Lennon’s job, as a manager, is to win football matches. We’ve got all the time in the world for Broony on these pages, but it’s important to recognise the need for continuity when things are working.
Alongside Soro, we expect Callum McGregor to captain the side and lead from the middle. There’s nothing to suggest anything else would be the case.
On the wings, Diego Laxalt and Jeremie Frimpong will be expected to start. Greg Taylor, for what it’s worth, had a good game last weekend. He’s a player not without critics, but I think he’ll see more action as the season unfolds. Still, Laxalt brings more to his game with his range of passing.
Frimpong, on the other wing, is a no-brainer. Given the lack of numbers we have on that side, it’s only natural he’d start.
Two number 10s and one Scottish Cup
Last week, Neil Lennon started both Mohammed Elyounoussi and David Turnbull behind Odsonne Edouard (WhoScored?). It worked a treat, but I think our manager has other ideas in mind.
The shape will remain the same, but Ryan Christie could come in to take Elyounoussi’s place.
Christie has been absent recently but his shooting threat and link-up play with Edouard, alongside the numerous attacking talents of David Turnbull, represent a tantalising prospect.
Elyounoussi is a quality player, no doubt. However, I’m not convinced he’s fully fit, and his cameos from the bench have saved us in games. Look at the St. Johnstone game, for example (SPFL).
Christie has also come under fire this season, especially after his heroics for Scotland. However, this is definitely his kind of game, and Hearts’ defence are there to be ran at. If you could play all three together, that’d be great. As it is, I expect Christie to get the nod.
Up front: who else?
He’s been excellent for the Colts. He has natural goalscoring instincts. That’s right, I’m saying Celtic should give the ultimate baptism of fire to Owen Mof-…
Nah. Obviously, it’ll be Edouard up top. The Frenchman has combined well with David Turnbull in recent matches and although he’s missed some prolificacy in his game, he lives for these matches.
If you’re unsure, watch our last Scottish Cup Final again.
An exciting Celtic XI in full:
Going from right to left:
Hazard, Ajer, Duffy, Jullien, Frimpong, McGregor, Soro, Laxalt, Turnbull, Christie, Edouard.
Disagree? Feel free to get in touch with us at @67hailhail. Make sure to blame me specifically, because I’m sure between the staff, there are multiple potential XIs.
As for our opponents? Ben Banks of Not The Old Firm gave us the low-down on Hearts in this fascinating Scout Report.