I’m aware we’re currently preparing for a huge clash with Lille in tonight’s second Europa League group stage clash, but let’s look ahead to Sunday for a moment.
Celtic take on Aberdeen in a winner-takes-all Scottish Cup semi-final clash at Hampden. In the starting XI, you can be almost certain that the highly-criticsed Shane Duffy will feature.
Neil Lennon has launched a staunch defence of his centre-back from outside criticism this week (Daily Record), whilst we at 67HailHail also sympathised with his start to life in Glasgow.
And he’s certainly struggled in the early stages of his loan spell from Brighton. Some poor positional awareness and a lack of pace have been two of the main gripes, whilst just some basic careless errors have crept into his play when on the ball.
But it’s important to remember why Duffy was signed in the first place. He wasn’t brought in because of his ball-playing skills – he was signed in order to halt our defence from being bullied by physical strikers.
Christopher Jullien and Kris Ajer were made to look extremely weak against the likes of Lyndon Dykes, Sam Cosgrove, Nicke Kabamba, and Marios Ogboe to name a few last season (and even at the start of the current one).
So far Duffy has barely had the chance to come up against any of the centre-forwards that fit that profile. But Sunday’s cup semi-final will provide him with that test in Aberdeen’s Cosgrove.
Duffy must hit the reset button and get the better of Cosgrove
He was one of the strikers who got far too much joy in aerial battles against us last season. He came on for the closing stages of the draw at the weekend and did well, but in fairness, the game had become something of a mess in the final 20 minutes.
Cosgrove looks all set for a start this weekend at Hampden, and that will see Duffy come up against his first big physical challenge domestically since he signed. Before the criticism goes any further, it would be ideal to see whether he can cope with this kind of opponent. If he can, then there’s something to work with. If he can’t, even bigger questions must be asked about his signing.
After all, it could be the case that there are certain centre-forwards that the likes of Jullien/Ajer can deal with, and other types of strikers more suited to Duffy’s traits. That’s why you have a squad.
So far it’s been perceived as though the Ireland captain has been useless for us, but that’s unfair. That’s unfair. There are questions to answer, and his start has undoubtedly been disappointing, but we’ve still to see him regularly come up against the profile of striker he was signed to halt.
Derek McInnes will want to start Cosgrove on Sunday given it’s his number one striker. And if he does, it gives Duffy a massive chance to hit the reset button on his Celtic career and start proving he can solidify our defence against strikers of Cosgrove’s ilk.
Yes, there have been some shaky moments early on, and there are definitely strikers in Scotland who will thrive off of the new recruit’s lack of pace. But for someone with the traits that Cosgrove has, this could be the fixture where Duffy starts to make an impact. And morale can do wonderful things.
Let’s see how things go on Sunday. Lille isn’t exactly a distraction, but we can all accept that reaching another cup final this weekend is more important. Hopefully, Duffy starts proving that Lennon was right to bring him on board and can stop our defence from being bullied by powerful forwards. That is, after all, what he was brought in to directly combat.