Predicted Celtic XI vs St Johnstone; stick or twist up front, defensive shuffle needed

By Euan Davidson

February 13, 2021

Celtic manager Neil Lennon has enjoyed some success of late.

Strange as it is to say in a season where our beloved club has disappointed us constantly, it’s true. Lately, results have picked up. Some key players have shone, while squad options have risen to the challenge. Fine, we’re still a headache to watch at times, but there’s a fresh feeling around Paradise just now.

Well, no, maybe that’s a bit far. In any event, 3 wins on the trot is decent going, when only last month we pondered how bad things might get.

Does it mean Neil Lennon should remain in charge? No. But, does it mean Celtic can sustain a challenge against Rangers for the title? Also, no.

Still, with good results behind us and some entertaining moments ahead, let’s look at who Neil Lennon will pick to face Callum Davidson’s charges in Perth tomorrow.

Celtic defender Kristoffer Ajer / (Photo by Craig Foy/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Celtic have defensive questions to answer

Scott Bain will most likely start tomorrow, given that he’s been playing in Celtic’s decent recent run. However, that statement relies on logic, which hasn’t featured often in the goalkeeping department this season. Trying to predict what Lennon will do next must be like what watching Houdini in his pomp.

Common sense dictates that it’d be Barkas starting, given the fee Celtic paid. However, Bain was in the last game, he’ll probably feature tomorrow. He’s not been spectacular, neither has he disgraced himself.

Not even a month ago, you’d have looked at me funny if I suggested Stephen Welsh not featuring was a big deal. Apart from the odd substitute appearance or cameo role, Welsh had felt like a forgotten man. In barely any time, he’s impressed to the level that we’ll genuinely miss him.

Neil Lennon must see the correlation between Duffy not starting and Celtic winning matches. Harsh as it sounds, there is cause and effect there. On that basis, Nir Bitton and Kristoffer Ajer seem the most likely pairing for Perth.

In the full-back positions, Greg Taylor is more of an automatic starter than he’s ever been at Celtic. Jonjoe Kenny will be on the right, and could have some joy on the right-hand side against the Saints tomorrow. This is by the easiest part of constructing a Predicted XI.

Celtic stars Ismaila Soro and David Turnbull / (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Soro comeback?

Scott Brown playing 4 times in 2 weeks seems ridiculous. Yet, it could still happen. Again, relying on common sense is a fool’s errand when it comes to predicting Celtic line-ups.

Still, you’ve got to surely assume that Ismaila Soro will make his comeback. The Ivorian hasn’t put a foot wrong in his young Hoops career, and he could provide the energetic spark in defensive midfield that has been lacking in other matches.

Callum McGregor probably deserves a rest, but he is not mortal like you or I. He’ll start alongside David Turnbull, who has played with such casual brilliance this season that you forget he’s still a relatively new player for us.

On the tip of the diamond, Ryan Christie probably did enough with his minutes on Wednesday night. Tom Rogic misplaced his passes, and despite his goal, wasn’t particularly good. When Christie came on, Celtic scored two in quick succession.

Celtic striker Patryk Klimala / (Photo by Steve Welsh/Pool via Getty Images)

 A curveball up front? Remember, it’s only a Predicted XI…

Stay with me here, but I actually think Patryk Klimala might get a game tomorrow.

St Johnstone concede the majority of their goals from central attacking positions, specifically around the penalty spot [WhoScored?]. The physicality of the big Polish striker, next to Odsonne Edouard, could be a tall order for Callum Davidson’s back 3.

Albian Ajeti wasn’t on particularly hot form in either of Celtic’s last two matches. Leigh Griffiths seems out of favour, but he’s an effective option from the bench. Put it this way: Griffiths for Klimala is a better option than Klimala for Griffiths, if you follow.

The Polish striker hasn’t had a hatful of opportunities this season, and St Johnstone’s tough, robust defence might be best met with a battering ram like Klimala. Edouard is on fantastic form, and he’ll be able to find pockets of space for “Polish Paddy” to roam.

It’s crazy enough to work.

Predicted Celtic XI vs St Johnstone (R-L): Bain, Kenny, Bitton, Ajer, Taylor, Soro, Turnbull, Christie, McGregor, Klimala, Edouard