Why Celtic v Preston North End matters more than the average friendly

By Euan Davidson

July 16, 2021

When Celtic v Preston North End kicks off, we are officially past the “it’s just a friendly” territory.

Normally, pre-season matches aren’t that important, unless something particularly strange happens. For example, if Celtic put out a full-strength side against a Sunday League team and lost 5-0, it’d be a result worth talking about. However, it’s more about fitness, about individual performances.

Friendlies are just different. Tomorrow, though, is a game that matters. A 5.30pm kick-off [Celtic FC], Preston offer a step-up in terms of opposition. More than that, though, there are factors which should give Bhoys fans hope in the new era under Ange Postecoglou.

Let’s get into it.

Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Celtic Park will have supporters back for Preston North End visit

The main reason it matters? Supporters are back.

Fine, it’s only going to be 2,000 very lucky supporters who will be passing through the turnstiles at Paradise. However, all the clichés are appropriate here: it’ll feel like far more, there’ll still be an atmosphere, and so on.

It’s Ange Postecoglou and several Celtic players’ first time in front of supporters. David Turnbull, for example, still hasn’t played in the Hoops for a crowd. New Bhoys, like Osaze Urhoghide and Liam Shaw will surely feature at some stage, while Furuhashi and Abada can at least sample a taster of what Celtic crowds are like.

The boss is the main attraction, though. Everything he’s said and done so far indicates a man confident in his abilities, with a clear vision of how he wants Celtic to play.

There’s very obvious excitement there. And if you think Ange Postecoglou doesn’t care about a result on his first game at Celtic Park, you’re incredibly misguided. He’ll want to win this, and in convincing fashion, too.

Last chance to tinker with shape ahead of Champions League test

Again, it’s a big moment for Postecoglou.

Competitive action arrives on Tuesday, probably far sooner than Postecoglou would’ve liked. If he hadn’t the sense of how intense life at Celtic is yet, he’ll surely know by the end of tomorrow’s game.

Ahead of a crucial Champions League tie against FC Midtjylland, we’ve seen some really good stuff out of Postecoglou’s Celtic. The shape looks more cohesive, the defensive line seems more organised, and (generally) the Bhoys are scoring goals.

The manager hasn’t had a “best XI” available to him quite yet, and that’s an issue.

But it’s the roles of players, the way Celtic set up, that’s just as important as personnel for a manager of Postecoglou. Thus far, he’s got a tune out what he has at Celtic, without drastic tinkering in-game. Tomorrow may be friendly, yes, but it’s the biggest test of his system and shape ahead of a vital meeting on Tuesday night.

Photo by Han Myung-Gu/Getty Images

Postecoglou has chance to field his best possible Celtic XI against Preston North End

Youngsters have been the toast of pre-season so far, and that’s an excellent thing. The likes of Moffat, Montgomery et al could well have significant roles to play this season.

However, expect Postecoglou to name something close to his strongest possible team tomorrow. As a dress rehearsal for FC Midtjylland, the meeting between Celtic and Preston North End functions as something more important than a friendly, in terms of how our season develops.

In terms of personnel, we’ll get the biggest idea of who has and who hasn’t adapted to Postecoglou’s tactical style. Expect a couple of shocks along the way; chances for players who looked to be gone finding another opportunity, big names from the last few seasons missing out.

The team that starts tomorrow, barring injuries, should be very similar to the first XI against FC Midtjylland. And with fans in the ground, Postecoglou will be keen to give the 2,000 Hoops supporters a show.

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