Celtic's ideal opportunity to reintroduce returning defender
On Saturday afternoon, Celtic fans were delighted to see the return of defender Carl Starfelt from injury.
The 27-year-old arrived at Parkhead last summer to join Ange Postecoglou’s new-look Hoops squad, who underwent a huge rebuild.
After signing from Russian side Rubin Kazan, the central defender was thrust straight into the starting 11 and faced a difficult start to life in the green and white.
However, Starfelt quickly became a reliable member of the squad, settling in and becoming more comfortable playing within Postecoglou’s system alongside fellow summer signing Cameron Carter-Vickers.
The Celtic duo were key contributors in the Bhoys’ double-winning campaign and are still yet to lose a league game that they have started alongside one another.
Coming into the 2022/23 season, Starfelt would have been looking to build upon a fantastic first 12 months at Celtic, playing Champions League group stage football.
However, in June, the defender picked up a serious hamstring injury whilst on international duty with Sweden, which kept him out of the Hoops pre-season preparations.
Instead, Starfelt has slowly been working his way back to fitness and only became available for selection once again this past weekend.
Postecoglou quickly brought him back into the squad, and with Stephen Welsh falling ill, it meant that he was the backup defensive option on the bench.
When is the best chance to bring Starfelt back into competitive action?
The Celtic manager confirmed ahead of the trip to Ross County that Starfelt is back in contention. But it is now just about when is best to slot him back into the side.
Of course, the 56-year-old is no longer short of options in the central defensive areas, with Cameron Carter-Vickers slotting straight back into his regular position.
Stephen Welsh and new summer signing Mortiz Jenz have also made strong starts to the new campaign, with both defenders scoring on their appearances against Aberdeen and Ross County.
So, you would imagine it won’t be as simple as jumping straight back into the starting 11 for the Swedish internationalist. Especially when you also consider he still needs to build up his match fitness.
In my opinion, your best opportunity to bring Carl Starfelt back into the starting line-up is at the end of this month, when the Bhoys travel back up to the highlands to take on Ross County in the Premier Sports cup.
Malky MacKay’s side has already shown how tough a test they can provide. However, it seems likely that Postecoglou will make changes to his side, with the following game being the Glasgow derby just three days later.
That will also be Celtic’s first-midweek outing, and the fixture list will only get busier from there. So, it feels like the ideal opportunity to ease the defender back into a starting spot.
Of course, that doesn’t mean he has to be limited to no substitute appearances, and you would imagine the coaching staff are keen to give him some minutes across the next three games in the league.
However, starting and playing the entire 90 minutes is a whole different proposition and one that Starfelt will need to build towards.
He may not be as much of a regular in the Celtic back four right now, but Starfelt’s chance will come with plenty of defensive options to choose from.
Postecoglou has already stated on multiple occasions that rotation is bound to take place this season, with another hectic fixture list to look forward to.
It remains a huge boost to see Carl Starfelt back amongst contention for the starting line-up. Now, it is about building himself up, so he is ready for when that opportunity comes.