Celtic manager Neil Lennon has explained Jozo Simunovic’s absence today after revealing that he struggles to play three games in a week.
Simunovic played the full 90 minutes against Hearts on Wednesday night as Celtic ran out comfortable 5-0 winners. Next up for Lennon’s men is a trip to Copenhagen to face the Danes in the Europa League last-32 where you would imagine Simunovic will feature.
He didn’t even make the matchday squad for today’s 2-1 win at Pittodrie against Aberdeen. Considering it wasn’t being played on astroturf, it was quite surprising to see Jozo omitted completely.
However, speaking post-match in the Daily Record, Lennon touched on the centre-back and hinted as to why he didn’t take part:
“It’s difficult for Jozo to play three games in a week so we are hopeful he will be alright for Thursday.”
Bitton return eases heavy fears
Fortunately for Celtic, Nir Bitton made a timely return in Simunovic’s absence. He played alongside both Christopher Jullien and Kristoffer Ajer this afternoon at Pittodrie.
Bitton put in a decent enough showing. Even if there were signs of rustiness, getting 90 minutes under his belt will do him well. It was also his first in over a month, so it was ideal for him to play and for us to still not do any damage to our title charge.
Simunovic’s fitness concerns aren’t ideal of course, but it does work well in terms of our rotation. It will allow us to mix and match at the back if Lennon feels necessary, and will ensure that all of our first-team central defenders are getting regular game-time.
Of course, all of that can change if and when Lennon changes things to a four at the back. With two full-backs needed in any system that deploys a flat-four, that would close up a centre-back spot that would normally go to Simunovic/Bitton.
What it does do is give Lennon options. Too often this season have we had such a lengthy injury list. With Hatem Abd Elhamed still to return too, it won’t be long before our options in defence are the most extensive they’ve been in a long time.
So whilst Simunovic’s absence today was a tad surprising, it’s great to hear that it’s nothing serious.