Despite being rather unfairly lampooned during his start to life at Celtic, we’ll miss Carl Starfelt tomorrow night. Ange Postecoglou confirmed as much within the last hour.
The Sweden international picked up a knock against Livingston, in a game which offered nothing but frustration. And just as the Bhoys were on an injury-free run, the Swede joined Tom Rogic on the missing list.
It’s especially frustrating, given the form Starfelt had shown next to Cameron Carter-Vickers. The duo have been largely responsible for an excellent recent trend. Celtic had conceded just 2 in 6 games [WhoScored?], even keeping a clean sheet against tomorrow night’s opponents.
So, it’s annoying to say the least. Fine; Starfelt didn’t make the most auspicious start to life at Celtic. But he was thrown in, with little training, having moved from an entirely different team in terms of tactics. Converting to being a wider, ball-playing centre-back takes time, and Starfelt wasn’t really given any.
He deserves credit. The bigger problem at the moment, though, is how you replace him for tomorrow night.
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Stephen Welsh may be the obvious choice in some respects. Prior to Carter-Vickers’ arrival, the Academy graduate was a mainstay. Technically, he’s actually quite well-suited to Postecoglou’s style. Useful in the pass, good at winning his aerial duels to win possession, and vocal.
There’s also Nir Bitton. Used in his favoured position in recent games, the Israel international has shown encouraging form. However, it’s been almost universally bad news for Bitton as a centre-back this season. After the FC Midtjylland disaster, it seems as if Postecoglou will only use the commanding midfielder at the back if entirely necessary.
Celtic immediately look weaker without Carl Starfelt, but it doesn’t need to be a disaster
There are other options. Liam Scales, brought in from Shamrock Rovers, can play as a left-sided centre-back. However, given his lack of game-time, it seems extremely unlikely.
Ditto Osaze Urhoghide, who’s not made the pitch for Celtic in competitive action as yet this season. That’d be quite the shout from Ange Postecoglou. Whether we’ll actually see the likeable ex-Sheffield Wednesday man play for Celtic’s first-team this season remains mysterious.
Welsh seems the most likely choice here. If Bitton was entrusted, it would be a genuine surprise, to my mind. It’s also a regressive step, given that he’s finally being played in his correct position.
In any event, they say absence makes the heart grow fonder. In recent games, Starfelt has been excellent, if still a little unloved.
The Swedish international has been tidier on the ball, more effective in possession, and astute at sniffing out danger. Against St Johnstone and before he was taken off against Livingston, he looked completely untroubled.
Luckily, Celtic have options where there weren’t any before. It’s a massive opportunity for Stephen Welsh, the likeliest choice here. The Scotland U21 star has a chance to remind supporters what he’s capable of, having had a break-out 20-21.