Celtic were given a timely boost yesterday with the return of Hatem Elhamed to Scotland, and now Neil Lennon must find the quickest date to throw him right back into the side.
The Israeli had been self-isolating back in his homeland after picking up Covid. It ruled him out of colossal matches against Rangers, AC Milan, and Aberdeen respectively.
Lennon stated in the Daily Record that the right-back was returning to Scotland yesterday, and that he would likely be out for another week as he goes through cardiac tests.
However, Celtic have really been missing Elhamed’s composure at the back since he’s been out. The Israel international may have generally struggled to hold down a regular place in the starting XI since his arrival in the summer of 2019, but his record when playing can’t be underestimated.
Indeed, Elhamed has actually never lost a domestic match when he’s played. In total since signing from Hapoel Be’er Sheva, the defender has played in 14 Scottish games. His record stands at 13 wins and a draw when he’s been on the pitch (Transfermarkt).
Interestingly, Celtic have only conceded more than one goal on two of those occasions also. Elhamed has generally been an extremely reliable figure in the Scottish Premiership and Betfred Cup over the last 14 months or so.
Elhamed has been a picture of composure
And his importance has been highlighted further with some of the recent individual mistakes at the club.
Shane Duffy has been guilty of several high-profile blunders over the last nine days, whilst Neil Lennon has had to change his shape on several occasions to try and keep things tight at the back.
One of Elhamed’s top traits is his composure on the ball. Seldom do you see him misplace a pass or be caught in possession. And even on the rare occasions he does have his back to the wall, he has both the pace and aggression to win it back.
His return to Scotland is a much bigger boost than is being made out. This is a player who has a solid winning mentality and doesn’t even know what a domestic defeat tastes like.
Only injuries have kept the right-back/centre-back from featuring more regularly for Lennon, but it looks as though he’ll be ready to play from next week onwards.
That should ensure that Elhamed is in the squad for tricky-looking domestic fixtures at Motherwell and Hibernian respectively. That’s big. Hopefully he’s up to speed by then, as he could be one of the vital jigsaw pieces that we currently don’t have.