Sweeping changes, just not yet: Celtic predicted XI v Aberdeen

By Euan Davidson

February 26, 2021

For the first time in two years, we can provide a Celtic predicted XI not chosen by Neil Lennon.

For John Kennedy’s first game as interim manager, there’s genuine cause for intrigue, if not excitement. To many, this writer included, it felt like Kennedy had more to give. That Kennedy saw the game differently to Neil Lennon, and was hamstrung by the ex-captain’s stubbornness.

While there’s the obvious anti-Kennedy sentiment floating around, there’s still plenty of reason to be at least curious about this game. Aberdeen recovered from a 5-game goalless run to beat Kilmarnock last weekend [BBC]. Ahead of the second trip to Celtic Park this month, there’s a better atmosphere around Pittodrie.

The two managers have plenty to prove here. For Kennedy, what’s at stake is obvious. McInnes, meanwhile, has to win back a not insignificant section of the Dons support.

Celtic’s interim boss will have had nearly a week to train his side. That’s not enough to implement sweeping changes, least of all a new formation. So, bear that in mind as we approach the weekend; he’s not going to change too much too soon. That said, this will likely be a different Celtic to the one that lost to Ross County last weekend.

Here’s our Celtic Predicted XI to face Aberdeen tomorrow.

Celtic goalkeeper Scott Bain / (Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images)

Celtic predicted XI: nothing revolutionary yet

With the fitness of Barkas uncertain, we think Kennedy will stick with Scott Bain, but on a very short leash. The interim Celtic boss is going to have to make tough decisions, not least of which will be deciding on his number 1 for the end of the season.

Bain, in fairness to him, hasn’t done an awful lot wrong during his latest spell in the team. Against Ross County, the whole defence was at fault as another set-piece was converted by an opposition side.

Barkas will undoubtedly return to the first team, just not quite yet.

Greg Taylor is likely to miss the clash, so Diego Laxalt needs a big performance. The Uruguay international hasn’t been particularly impressive in Celtic colours, but it’s not like the Bhoys are blessed for options here. We’re hoping that Kennedy will have worked on positioning and shape over the week; defensive discipline is a problem for the AC Milan loanee.

In the middle, there’s no reason to drop Stephen Welsh or Kristoffer Ajer, so Kennedy is incredibly unlikely to do so. Jonjoe Kenny will continue on the right flank, in a mostly unchanged defence.

Celtic midfielder Ismaila Soro / (Photo by Alan Harvey/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Common sense decisions

We’re going to assume that Kennedy will play Celtic in a 4-4-2 diamond, but that it won’t be that way for long. Between Kennedy, Strachan and new first-team coach Stephen McManus, the trio haven’t really had time to implement any drastic changes.

Bearing that in mind, we expect Ismaila Soro to regain his place in the first team. The Ivorian midfielder seems like Kennedy’s type of player; tough, clever and productive. While we’ve campaigned for Callum McGregor to be rested, he’s probably the most reliable player in the squad, and Kennedy won’t want to upset the balance of the first-team too much in his first game.

David Turnbull is as close to undroppable as it gets for the Bhoys, so his inclusion seems inevitable. His long-distance strike made the difference the last time these two sides met, and he’ll be desperate to make a similar impact tomorrow. In the number 10 role, we’re hoping JK can get the best out of Ryan Christie.

Much-maligned this season, Christie has had to fit uncomfortably into different roles. Earlier on this season, he was forced out wide and it did his game some harm. He has to fight that instinct to cut inside and shoot every time has been detrimental, and we hope Kennedy can instruct the former Inverness man to keep it simple.

Odsonne Edouard celebrates against St Johnstone / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Forgotten man to get his chance next to Eddy?

We’re expecting Albian Ajeti to play next to Odsonne Edouard in the Celtic attack.

Last week, Lennon tried playing Christie up-top with French Eddy, but it just didn’t work. Neither player looked comfortable, and it’s seems obvious that you can’t just force a partnership together and expect it to work. In prior drafts of this very article, I suggested that Patryk Klimala would get a start, but with so little time to prove himself, John Kennedy needs points fast.

The fact is, Klimala hasn’t looked completely match fit in any of his appearances for Celtic. Whether mentally or physically, he hasn’t looked quite right, and needs more time to bed into the squad. Ajeti, on the other hand, could find the scoring form he showed from the start of 20-21, next to the closest thing to an automatic selection in Edouard.

So, it’s revolution, not evolution. However, there’s reason for genuine optimism. We wouldn’t suggest that Kennedy will experiment much in just his first game in charge, but we strongly believe he’ll try to put his tactical mark on Celtic before too long.

Celtic Predicted XI: Bain, Kenny, Welsh, Ajer, Laxalt, Soro, Turnbull, McGregor, Christie, Ajeti, Edouard

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