John Kennedy and his Celtic side know they have to go right at Rangers tomorrow.
In the delayed Scottish Cup clash, both sides have huge momentum. Rangers are still, regrettably unbeaten in the league, while Celtic are fresh off two convincing wins. A tactical tweak has opened up the attacking side of the Bhoys’ squad, with James Forrest returning to great fanfare.
Except, Kennedy has a massive call to make on the winger. Forrest limped off against Livingston having made his mark, and it’ll be touch-and-go right up to kick-off, as the cliché goes.
If the Bhoys really want to attack Steven Gerrard’s side, wing play will have a big impact. In the last meeting, a 1-1 draw [BBC], Elyounoussi went right at Leon Balogun, and caused problems on Rangers’ right-hand side. While there’s a convincing argument to return to the diamond, it’d be an upheaval to the squad to change formation for what seems like the 40th time this season.
No, we’re expecting continuity, for once. Kennedy seems to have figured out who his best team is, near enough. There are big personnel calls to make, yes, but it seems relatively obvious how the Celtic interim boss wants to go at this Rangers team.
It’s his second go at our rivals, and he’ll be desperate to make it count. Here’s our Predicted XI.
Celtic Predicted XI: first big call is in the defence
As recently as yesterday, I suggested that Greg Taylor was a must-start for Celtic. I stand by that assessment, as I think the Scot actually has more to his game than “Friendly Boy” Diego Laxalt (his words). From both a defensive and attacking point of view, Taylor offers decent consistency and could be an important player in years to come.
However, as shallow as this may be, it appears the momentum is with Diego Laxalt to start. My rule is, if you’re appearing in pressers, you’re likely getting a game. It’d be weird for Celtic to roll out the lovable Uruguayan for media duties if they weren’t going to play him. I know, Modern Football.
Oh, right; the rest of the defence. Well, at the moment, it picks itself. Scott Bain has been solid and his distribution has improved considerably since JK took over. Ahead of him and next to Laxalt, Stephen Welsh, Kristoffer Ajer and Jonjoe Kenny are as much of a certainty as it’s possible to be.
You don’t make wholesale changes to a defence that’s conceded just once in five. None of us need UEFA coaching badges to know that.
Resurgent Broony will be leading the Bhoys
Scott Brown has been formidable in recent weeks, and we’re expecting him to inhabit that comfortable defensive midfield role. He’s linking well with Ajer, coming back into defence while the Norwegian makes his marauding runs forward. It’s very good fun.
It’s one of Broony’s last Glasgow Derbies in a Celtic shirt. With a trophy potentially at stake, you know he’ll be desperate to make this count.
Ahead of him, Callum McGregor and David Turnbull will marshal the middle. Turnbull has an interesting role to play here; nominally a number 10, Turnbull can operate as something of a no.8, in a box-to-box role. It ultimately depends on the flow of the match, but you’d expect Kennedy to rely heavily on the ex-Motherwell man for creative impetus.
Kennedy has risky call to make, but this wouldn’t be a strongest Celtic XI without this man…
James Forrest is a risk, but he’s one worth taking. Even an 80% fit Jamesy gives Celtic so many more options, and he’s a veteran of these derbies [Transfermarkt]. Playing him might exacerbate his injury woes, and we need to be cognisant of that. But if he’s match-fit, he’s someone you can’t leave out.
Ryan Christie deputised well in Forrest’s place towards the end of the Livingston rout, but he’s not a natural winger. Against a cocky Borna Barisic, the winger will be keen to make a point. If you’re reading, Jamesy: embarrass him.
On the left, the on-form Mohamed Elyounoussi is similarly indispensable. On absolutely scorching form, Moi can build on his last outing against Rangers, in which he scored one and linked up brilliantly with Odsonne Edouard. Eddy’s natural tendency to drift to the left allows Elyounoussi to cut inside and get shots away, something he’s more than capable of doing.
It’s an attacking, potentially risky-line up, for sure. But it seems like, with so much on the line, the Celtic XI that John Kennedy will want to go for.