Lennon explains Barkas change; provides update on Hazard's Celtic position

By David Walton

December 30, 2020

Neil Lennon has explained why he’s dropped Conor Hazard for Vasilis Barkas at Celtic Park today.

Eyebrows were raised pre-match when the Hoops team was announced. Despite managing three clean sheets in five, Lennon dropped the fledgling Hazard. Instead, struggling summer signing Barkas came back into the mix for Dundee United’s visit.

So far there have been no major concerns in the first half. Celtic have kept United out with Barkas not having much to do. However, it’s clear Lennon now wants to play the Greek international against Rangers on Saturday also.

Speaking on BBC Sportsound (BBC Radio Scotland, 30/12, 14:31), Lennon said: “We’ve brought Barkas to be number one. He’s had a bit of a break and I want him back in now. I want him to play. We’ve got important games coming up. Conor’s done very well in a fledgling time for his career. But I think it’s time now for Barkas to come and be number one now and show the quality he has.

“There is that (Hazard’s recent displays) but he didn’t have a lot to do in the two previous games. He’s won a cup and played in a cup final. In that aspect – five or six games into his career – he’s won a trophy. But I think he’s not quite ready yet to be number one here.

“I think that’ll come. He’s got talent and he’s got good temperament. But just at the minute where we are in the season, I need more experience in goal.”

The message is clear – Barkas remains the Celtic number one

This is totally out of the blue from the manager. With some assured performances in recent weeks, it looked certain that Hazard was being given his big chance in Govan. With Ibrox just around the corner, it looked like being one heck of a learning curve.

But this decision settles the goalkeeping scenario for now. Barkas is the current Celtic number one, and Lennon is going to continue giving him opportunities to prove that.

In a way, you do have to look at things from Lennon’s perspective. This is a player we’ve splashed out a reported £4.5million on (Scottish Sun). He’ll want to justify that spend and will see today and Ibrox as a great opportunity for Barkas to prove his worth.

Celtic goalkeeper Conor Hazard has been dropped / (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group via Getty Images)

However, this is a massive gut-wrencher for Hazard. The manager has pretty much told him he isn’t good enough to be the number one for now. You would hope this is something he knew whilst he was playing in recent weeks. Otherwise, he’ll likely be absolutely devastated.

It’s difficult to really understand how Hazard develops then. Remember, he reportedly rejected a new contract at Parkhead in the summer when he wasn’t playing (The Courier). Why would he want to accept one now if he’s going to be back on the bench?

It’s one bold move from the manager. It’s harsh on Hazard who’s done nothing wrong and in fact won us the Scottish Cup final a couple of weeks ago. But Lennon will live and die by his decisions. Hopefully bringing in Barkas now proves to be the shrewd one.

In other news, take a look at some of the fan reaction to the decision earlier today.