The Tom Rogic verdict, major concerns emerge; 3 things learned as Celtic beat Hearts
Sky Sports pulled an excellent stat out of the bag ahead of the Celtic v Hearts game tonight.
The Bhoys have won 18 of the last 19 home games against Hearts, drawing the other in September 2015 [Sky Sports]. Despite that excellent home record against the Jambos, there were understandable nerves tonight.
In the reverse fixture at the start of the season, Hearts beat a Celtic side who hadn’t quite figured themselves out yet. In the following encounter between the two teams, Celtic dominated, in a 3-2 scoreline that flattered the visiting Jambos.
But there wasn’t anything necessarily easy about this one. Alongside Hibs, Aberdeen and Rangers, Hearts are on the list of teams that merit a circle around the date on the calendar.
If there were nerves though, they didn’t necessarily belong to the Celtic players. The Bhoys came flying out tonight, putting immediate pressure on a Hearts side who found difficulty in dealing with the energy of what should be a tired Hoops side.
A massive three points this, but as always, there were caveats. Clearly, Celtic supporters will be eagerly awaiting news on the three players who came off injured.
So what did we learn as Celtic got league revenge on Hearts?
Celtic’s relentless energy makes the difference
By all logic, Celtic shouldn’t have had the energy they had in the first half tonight. Given the unrelenting schedule, and the physical toll and travel involved with recent games, anyway.
Yet, the Hoops were first to everything. Kyogo was, typically, determined to frighten the life out of Craig Gordon and his defence. But the pressure from the back four was excellent. Starfelt was regularly pre-empting danger, Welsh looked the best we’ve seen him, and Ralston was his usual, dogged self before coming on.
In the first half, Celtic had a frankly unlikely 72% possession against the third-place team in the league [WhoScored?]. Celtic played over 400 passes in the opening 45, with 14 shots and 556 touches of the ball.
Ludicrous. Most teams would happy with that in a whole game.
The intensity paid off. Hearts were flustered and unorganised when Ralston set up Kyogo, who was clearly onside, to make it 1-0. Jota and Forrest were zipping around, causing problems, while Rogic adapted well to the pace of the game.
It might be a function of tactics. With McGregor sitting further back, the intensity has returned to Celtic. Not that we hadn’t played nice stuff and won matches, but some of the lightning paced movement hadn’t always been there.
Tonight, it was. What a difference it made. But really, our domination should have led to more clear-cut chances.
Hearts would make it difficult in the second half, and while Celtic weren’t exactly letting up, their command of the game wasn’t what it had been in the first half.
The energy and the attitude is there. Being more clinical is the next trick.
Rogic and Starfelt make significant difference for Celtic against Hearts
We got a bit of a surprise when the team-sheet came out. Carl Starfelt and Tom Rogic came back into the team after some time out.
Now, at last, we should be able to put the Starfelt “debate” to rest. The Swedish centre-back was excellent throughout, marshalling the back-line. His ability to read the game hampered a lot Hearts’ ability to counter-attack, a clear game-plan with their surprisingly high line.
Although he couldn’t partner Cameron Carter-Vickers tonight, he looked assured. It wasn’t the kind of performance you expect from a player who’s just returned from injury.
The same was true of Rogic. What a first-touch that man has. The Australian international, who was injured against Hearts’ inter-city rivals Hibs, hadn’t seemed to have lost a step either.
For Forrest, the rustiness was more apparent. That’s odd, considering his involvement in the last two games. Regardless, and leaving a very easy chance aside, he was decent if a little lacking in match fitness. He was still seeing a decent amount of the ball despite Celtic using the left-hand side more often [WhoScored?].
It wouldn’t be a Celtic game without worries though, as injuries pile up
Obviously, there was a negative. There’s always a negative. This one was nobody’s fault, but it’s still a blow.
Anthony Ralston, Jota and Stephen Welsh all had to come off during the course of the game. For Ralston, it was an injury picked up while assisting Kyogo’s goal. Both Jota and Welsh seemed to suffer hamstring issues.
That’s deeply concerning. Ange Postecoglou spoke before the game about the importance of a deep squad. Welsh was already injury cover, having been in for Carl Starfelt, and tonight, Cameron Carter-Vickers.
With Jota and Ralston both in excellent form for Celtic, coming off against Hearts was the last thing we wanted. They’re two vital players, and while there are options for both, they’re key players.
The schedule is relentless this month. Celtic have 8 more games to negotiate by the time Hogmanay comes.
Provided it isn’t good news, it’ll be another testing period for Bhoys boss Ange Postecoglou, and Head of Sports Science Anton McElhone.