Significant returns and attacking focus: the Celtic XI that John Kennedy should play against Falkirk

By Euan Davidson

April 2, 2021

After an international break that seemingly lasted forever, Celtic are back tomorrow night.

In a rare dose of Saturday Night football, the Bhoys are back in town to play Falkirk in the Scottish Cup. It’s, obviously, a must-win for John Kennedy. The interim manager has already stated he’ll be playing a strong XI against the League One side.

Kennedy told Celtic’s in-house media [Celtic FC]:

“There are a lot of guys itching at the bit to get a game but, at the same time, we want to be going out with a strong team to win the game.

“The competition we’ll start this weekend is really important for us, not just for the campaign itself but the players’ hunger to keep winning. When you get a couple of setbacks, it hurts, but it’s about using that hurt to motivate the squad to go out and win the next challenge which is the Scottish Cup.”

The timing is potentially advantageous for Mikey Johnston and James Forrest. Both have seemingly recovered from long-term injury absences in time for tomorrow night’s clash, which will be music to supporters’ ears, no doubt.

Who else ought to feature in what is a vital match for John Kennedy and Celtic?

Conor Hazard on international duty, making a save for Northern Ireland / (Photo By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

John Kennedy has his preferred defence in mind

Although Scott Bain seemingly has the no.1 shirt sewn up, it would be great to see Conor Hazard starting this one. Already a proven Scottish Cup stopper, Hazard has recently signed a new deal, and returned to the Northern Ireland squad.

Desperate for playing time, the 23-year-old is surely in with a shot. While his recent international outing was a mixed bag, confidence only comes with consistent appearances. Given it’s a cup game, Kennedy should show a little faith by picking the Celtic Academy graduate.

The rest of the defence picks itself. Greg Taylor was in the most recent Scotland squad, while Stephen Welsh and Kristoffer Ajer are a double-act on the ascendency. On the right, Everton loanee Jonjoe Kenny doesn’t really have any legitimate competition.

So far, so usual.

Celtic midfielder Ismaila Soro / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

An opportunity for Celtic midfielders

While Scott Brown has been dominating headlines, we know now that he’s not in Celtic’s immediate future. Given the stature of the match ahead, and the fact that he needs to develop, starting Ismaila Soro seems a no-brainer, here.

Yes, we only have so many more chances to see Broony playing in Green and White, but just because we want Soro to start, it doesn’t mean no Scott Brown at all. Definitely an option to use later on, Celtic’s number 8 can help to shore things up when, ideally, we’re a few goals ahead at the latter stages of the match.

Normally, we’d suggest someone like Ewan Henderson or Luca Connell here, for some much-needed game-time. However, they’re both on loan, and we really can’t complain about that. So what’s most likely is a combination involving Callum McGregor and David Turnbull.

It’s another captaincy audition for CalMac, while David Turnbull is must-watch this season. Falkirk may be two divisions below us, but that’s no reason to be complacent. Least of all this season.

Albian Ajeti in action for Celtic / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Three-pronged attack with injury returns, but no Eddy

Odsonne Edouard is away with France’s U21s, and we don’t really know what the story is with Leigh Griffiths’ fitness, currently. So it’s Albian Ajeti time!

The former West Ham United striker needs goals, and quickly. He’s unlikely to have a better opportunity to add to his tally and garner some much-needed confidence ahead of a seismic summer. If he wants to be at Celtic long-term, then these are the games he can definitely take advantage of.

On the wings of a 4-3-3, or a variation of 4-3-3, Mikey Johnston and James Forrest could return for Celtic. The signs point to them both featuring tomorrow night. Johnston is the less likely of the two, and he’ll need to have his fitness monitored pre-game, but he’s still a decent bet to start.

Our predicted XI: Hazard, Kenny, Ajer, Welsh, Taylor, Soro, Turnbull, McGregor, Forrest, Johnston, Ajeti

READ MORE: “Bring him home!”; long-standing Howe association with Boruc has some Celtic fans dreaming