Not sure I’d want to be Celtic manger Neil Lennon at this particular moment.
It’s not just the pressure of a massive Glasgow Derby that’ll be on the gaffer’s mind. He’s also got wee guys like me telling him not to go making too many changes.
He shouldn’t, though. It’s a massive cliché but Lennon shouldn’t try to fix what isn’t broken. December has been a fruitful month for Celtic, and it makes no sense to go making massive changes, whoever the opposition.
Chris Sutton has talked up the enormity of this fixture, and he knows a thing or two about beating Rangers (Daily Record). “Being realistic”, the former striker has claimed that all the pressure is on Celtic to win this one if the tide is to turn in the Bhoys’ favour.
We’ve already stated why we think Celtic fans should be excited. Here’s the line-up that Lennon should go with to keep that feeling going.
Barkas in goals, Celtic defence only area in doubt
Lennon will start Vasilis Barkas against Rangers today. That’s been all but confirmed (Daily Record). It makes a degree of sense; if you’re dropping £4.5m on a goalkeeper, you want him playing big games.
Barkas’ time at Celtic hasn’t been particularly impressive. However, with a settled defence in front of him, you’d hope that he’ll be more confident and can show the leadership abilities which made him first choice at AEK Athens.
Yes, it’s more than a little harsh on Conor Hazard, but the Northern Irish international is still a work-in-progress. At the very least, Hazard has done his career no harm at all.
Jullien is unlikely to play today. Leaving a game on a stretcher is never a great sign. Instead, we’re expecting Nir Bitton and Kristoffer Ajer to marshal the middle.
Ajer has looked rejuvenated throughout the Bhoys’ busy winter run. Bitton played a large part of Celtic’s win over Dundee United on the 30th, and… he wasn’t great (WhoScored?).
In fact, he was lucky to have not conceded a penalty. If he plays ahead of Shane Duffy today, he needs to be on it from the first whistle.
In the full-back positions, I’d argue Greg Taylor is a good shout to start. His defensive capabilities are well-known domestically, and he might be well-placed to deal with Kemar Roofe and/or James Tavernier. However, I’m surer that Diego Laxalt will get the nod, with Jeremie Frimpong on the right.
Laxalt’s international experience and pace are important for a game of this magnitude, while there’s simply no reason to drop Frimpong based on his recent performances.
Midfield: hearts will be broken if Soro doesn’t start
On current form, Ismaila Soro has to start against Rangers. At this point, it’s not a debate. Fine; Scott Brown is massively experienced, and especially likes these fixtures, but Soro has earned the chance to start.
It’s not like Broony will be exiled to Siberia. He’ll be on the bench, and in either scenario, he’d probably still wear a t-shirt and shorts despite everything.
Broony is a player who could give Celtic real impetus and leadership as a substitute. Tactically, it makes most sense for Soro to start and unlock his co-stars in midfield. In an ideal world, our captain would come on later in the match to shore up the defence and help to secure a positive result.
Alongside the Ivorian, there is no reason Callum McGregor, Ryan Christie and David Turnbull shouldn’t play from the start.
The midfield diamond has worked a treat, and Lennon should bank on it shining again today.
Up front: the most obvious choice possible
We want Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths up front against Rangers.
In-game management is important, here. If Celtic find themselves in a less than advantageous position, then one of the strikers could be replaced by a more defensive option, sure.
But Celtic need to go for the throat from the start here. That means playing two up front.
With Rangers likely to play a back 4 and Ryan Jack missing out in defensive midfield, Celtic’s dynamic duo could cause Gerrard’s side real problems from the start if we’re aggressive and creative.
Anything less makes no sense. Celtic can’t go to Ibrox with any fear. Rangers aren’t used to sides going at them from the first minute this season, and there’s every reason to believe that the Bhoys, with two upfront, could really unsettle the Gers’ defence.