The Ajer/Frimpong Celtic combination that looks perfect for Rangers clash

By David Walton

December 27, 2020

As we continue to look ahead to a huge week at Celtic, it’s fair to say Neil Lennon’s selections will be huge.

Dundee United at Parkhead is first up followed by THE fixture at Ibrox. And make no mistake, everyone bar Neil Lennon and the players will be looking ahead to the game in Govan.

And one of the issues Celtic have had in the last two derbies has been the right side for me. Ryan Kent and Borna Barisic have had the freedom of Celtic Park. They combined to brutal effect back in December to set up Rangers’ first goal in a 2-1 win. They nearly did the exact same in October but for a superb block from Kristoffer Ajer.

Speaking of Ajer, he’s been a sensational right-back replacement for Jeremie Frimpong in recent weeks. He’s been operating on the right side of a back four at times and has been thriving. He set up the winner vs Lille and was defensively resolute against Kilmarnock, Hearts, and Ross County respectively.

Ajer has the traits to be a convincing Celtic right-back

Driving up and down the right and using his control and technique to good effect, he’s learning brilliantly. And, in my opinion, he has to play there again vs Rangers with Frimpong playing ahead of him at right-wing.

Lennon pulled Ajer back to centre-back at Hamilton yesterday. But that was only because both Chris Jullien and Shane Duffy weren’t fit enough to start. That looks likely to change on Wednesday with both defenders set to be available again.

And whilst the manager could likely mix things up again vs United, his selection at Ibrox is crucial. The best combination to stop Barisic and Kent, therefore, is Ajer and Frimpong.

Ajer is one of the best at one-v-ones at the club. He’s aggressive, he’s quick, and perhaps most importantly he’s superb with his timing. He’s also a giant too to throw into the bargain. If Kent isolates him one-v-one, you’ll likely find Ajer thwarting him and making himself big to stop him.

With Barisic and Kent consistently combining, we also have an incredible blocker of the ball in Ajer. Ensuring he’s covering that right-side should limit the time and quality Barisic has and is able to put into the box. The one thing you get with Ajer is a desire to throw himself in harm’s way. He’ll do everything he can to stop the service, and he has the traits to do it.

Meanwhile, you’re leaving Frimpong to mainly do what he’s best at – running at the opposition in the final third. If all four men are in the Rangers final third, having Frimpong advanced allows him to break with pace whilst already being ahead of the Rangers pair. You wouldn’t back either of them in a foot race vs Jeremie.

Concerns over Ajer would be minimised at right-back

One of the biggest complaints over Ajer is he tends to get a bit handsy. This has cost us plenty of penalty kicks over the years and can be one of his biggest frustrations. That wouldn’t just disappear at right-back. But it could prove to be less costly.

You would much rather Ajer gives away the odd free-kick than a penalty.

Some may say that this leaves Shane Duffy and Chris Jullien at the back. It does. So what? With Ajer and Diego Laxalt either side of them you’re limiting Rangers’ main threats which come down the flanks. Just because the goal is in the centre doesn’t mean that’s where Rangers are at their most effective.

Alfredo Morelos was barely in the last derby back in October. Don’t let the result fool you there. Duffy’s two errors came from both goals. He was hardly as all over the place as was made out. His performance was totally blown up. He made two errors, and I would even argue the second he was just unlucky for.

Kristoffer Ajer impresses at right-back for Celtic vs Lille / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

We should, in my view, be doing all we can to play Ajer and Frimpong together at Ibrox. I think that’s a terrific combination that can both limit Rangers’ threat whilst cause damage in the final third ourselves.

Both men are extremely quick. So if both are caught high up the pitch there’s every chances they’ll get back into position.

Lennon halted this against Accies, but hopefully it’s brought back at Ibrox. With James Forrest out (Glasgow Times), this is the best combination for now.

In other news, we discuss why Lennon’s decision on the other flank is an easy one.