Get intae them: the Celtic XI that John Kennedy should pick to win Glasgow Derby

By Euan Davidson

March 20, 2021

The Bhoys have a massive job to do tomorrow, and getting the starting Celtic XI right is vital.

Given the bluster and hype around a “guard of honour” [BBC], fan trouble for a closed doors match [Daily Record] and all the usual hyperbole, it’s easy to have forgotten there’s a game on. Despite all the noise, it’s still been a comparably subdued build-up. As weird as it is to say, given the constant headlines, there’s still been a bit of a shrug about the football component.

There shouldn’t be. No Celtic v Rangers match is a non-event. It doesn’t matter that the league is past us. Beating Rangers should always, always be a prerogative. John Kennedy knows this exactly, and he’ll be aware it could kick-start a career in management.

Thursday night was a debacle, a truly shameful night for football. There is literally nothing about how Slavia Prague acted that is worthy of praise. We should stand in solidarity with Glen Kamara, and with any and all clubs who spread an anti-racism message.

The football side of that match, though, showed there are ways to beat Rangers. We are absolutely not offering praise to the side who disgraced themselves the other night. They did win that match, though, and winning on Sunday is an absolute must for John Kennedy and Celtic.

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We’ve talked about defensive wingers. The potential impact of Ismaila Soro, too. There is a blueprint (greenprint?) to beat Gerrard’s side, and selection is a huge part of that.

So, instead of a Predicted XI, we’re going rogue. Here is the team that should play on Sunday. Come on you Bhoys in Green.

Celtic academy graduate Stephen Welsh / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Celtic XI: defence picks itself, but Glasgow Derby is massive test

It feels odd starting this by suggesting that Scott Bain “should” play the Glasgow Derby. Personally, I’m not a huge fan. He’s never looked like a Celtic number 1, primarily because he doesn’t seem to inspire great confidence around him. The Celtic defence always looked far more comfortable with Craig Gordon and Fraser Forster behind them.

Still, he’s the man on “form”. We haven’t conceded in our last two matches, and it’d be harsh to leave him out. So, he’s in, with the caveat that he shouldn’t be the permanent solution.

Greg Taylor was back in training, but there’s no massive indication he’s match fit yet. Diego Laxalt and the impressive Jonjoe Kenny should get the nod to start in the full-back positions. Laxalt has blown hot and cold for the Bhoys, but he’s our best choice, given the circumstances. His role is massive: he’s got to neutralise whoever plays on the right of Rangers’ attacking three, while patrolling the flank and providing crosses or establishing moves with the players ahead of him. Quite the shift.

In the middle, it’s Kristoffer Ajer and Stephen Welsh. As close to a lock as you’re likely to find. Kennedy might be tempted to opt for experience, with Shane Duffy and Nir Bitton available. But without labouring the point, he shouldn’t do that.

Ismaila Soro is, in our view, vital / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Kennedy should revert to Celtic shape that has worked in the past

While the midfield diamond has its supporters, myself included, I have already argued for a particular shape this weekend. So it’d be weird if I contradicted myself, wouldn’t it?

Let’s start at the base of midfield. Callum McGregor has a point to prove after the last Derby, and is an automatic starter. Alongside him, in a double-pivot, should be Ismaila Soro. Yes, Scott Brown has been in the team recently, but Soro counters specific threats. Capable in either a deep-lying playmaker role, or as a ball-winning midfield enforcer, Soro is the perfect foil for the ball recycling, hard-working Rangers midfield.

Soro’s utter determination and stamina mean he’s best suited to constantly harassing Gerrard’s midfield. We saw it work to decent effect in the last meeting, and on ability alone, Soro deserves to start. Having Scott Brown as a squad option is no bad thing.

Ahead of them, as a number 10, David Turnbull has a massive chance. He was used as an out-and-out attacking midfielder at Motherwell and created plenty of goals. Nestled behind a lone striker (we’ll get to that), Turnbull has played too well, too often, for him to be left out.

Elyounoussi and Forrest / (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Completing the Celtic XI: an attacking 3 – of sorts

Call it 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, 4-5-1 or whatever you like. But I’m opting for a defending-from-the-front, high-energy front three to hassle Rangers from the first whistle.

Again, I’ve already extolled the virtues of starting Elyounoussi and Forrest; read here if you haven’t already. My argument is that, as well as an obvious attacking threat, both wingers have defensive value. Gerrard likes to set up Barisic and Tavernier/Patterson as playmaking full-backs. It’s a system not unlike Liverpool’s, who use Robertson and Alexander-Arnold as primary creators from wide positions.

Having energetic, tactically astute wingers pressing them from the first whistle is – if you ask me – the smart option here. These are players who can make quick tackles, break up play and immediately counter. They’re also well capable of cutting inside and dragging centre-backs out of position; something that was a problem for Rangers on Thursday, specifically the first goal.

Up front for Celtic in Glasgow Derby? Odsonne Edouard. Start him by himself, and bring on one of Ajeti, Klimala or Griffiths if we’re struggling to finish chances. However, given Edouard’s abilities, he might benefit more from players around him stretching the game out wide and leaving the Frenchman pockets of space between the centre-backs.

The Celtic XI that should start tomorrow (L-R): Bain, Laxalt, Welsh, Ajer, Kenny, McGregor, Soro, Elyounoussi, Turnbull, Forrest, Edouard

READ MORE: Let them have their “moment”; they aren’t in Celtic’s league yet.