Celtic v Aberdeen Preview – Tom Rogic, the Celtic Star Aberdeen fear most

On the back of a confidence boosting performance – if not bittersweet result – in Lille on Thursday night, Celtic return to domestic action this weekend. It isn’t however league duty for the Celts, indeed it’s not even a domestic game from this season. Instead, Celtic play Aberdeen in the semi-final of the 2019-2020 Scottish Cup. Things have changed a lot, haven’t they? It really is difficult to keep up sometimes.

Though it’s easy enough to get your head around it all when you think Celtic could be only two games away from an amazing Quadruple Treble and a 12th consecutive domestic trophy. Crisis, what crisis?

Our opponent at Hampden on Sunday for a 2.30 pm Kick off is Aberdeen. Both sides of course got a really good look at each other last week in the 3-3 Scottish Premiership draw at Pittodrie. Hopefully familiarity doesn’t breed such contempt that this becomes a dull encounter, as last week’s game was a superbly entertaining game of football and not many have been this season.

Aberdeen of course have a massive advantage over the Celts having had a full week to prepare for this cup tie, however to Celtic’s advantage is the lift the performance in Lille will have given the players. As such the Dons will face a Celtic side in an altogether more positive frame of mind than they did last weekend. A bit like the support really.

Aberdeen and what to expect

When it comes to Aberdeen, much went as we predicted in last week’s match preview. Aberdeen did as we said and played for free kicks and penalties and the danger man we highlighted ended up being their Man of the Match Ryan Hedges.

Lewis Ferguson-Pen scored two spot kicks, one bought very cleverly indeed and the other goal came from the man we told you was the ‘One to Watch’ Ryan Hedges. Even our ‘One to Target’ Tommie Hoban gave away the penalty with a foul on Moi Elyounoussi. They are a predictable enough side. But knowing is one thing, doing something about it is something altogether more difficult as Neil Lennon found out last weekend.

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In terms of formation, it’s unlikely Aberdeen will change much at all. They did make a slight alteration last week moving from a 3-4-1-2 formation to a 3-1-4-2 strategy, before reverting to the former in the second half. That change came with the introduction of Scott Wright. It was a surprise to see his creativity benched but it showed the respect Derek McInnes had for Celtic. He clearly wasn’t buying into the reports of Celtic’s demise and decided to shore up the cover for his backline with ex Celt Dylan McGeough coming into the side. The change worked as Aberdeen went in at the break ahead.

The second half saw a far more open encounter and Scott Wright’s introduction made a big change to Aberdeen’s approach. Wright caused Celtic a lot of problems when he came on. He was willing to run at players and didn’t lack for confidence. It will be interesting to see with McGeough unavailable for selection if McInnes plays Wright from the start this time around. It’s possible, especially with what is likely to be a tiring Celtic side in the second half that he’ll introduce Wright again with a view to running past tired horses.

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It’s a gamble for the Aberdeen manager as Celtic managed to create and score chances last weekend, if McInnes leaves it too late to introduce his creative player his semi-final could already be over.

Another player who caused Celtic difficulty was Sam Cosgrove. Introduced off the bench he cracked the bar and had another good opportunity, as he set about ruffling the feathers of the Celtic defence. It would be no surprise to see him involved again on Sunday. With Aberdeen’s Ryan Edmondson taking time out under concussion protocols this week, it may well be the big battering ram gets another chance on Sunday this time from the start.

A resurgent Celtic

If it is to be that way, the one man Celtic fans will hope to see returned to the starting line-up, after a late substitute appearance on Thursday, is Tom Rogic. Rogic had a swagger of old about him last weekend and although still a way off match sharpness, his guile playing ahead of Olivier Ntcham and Callum McGregor led to the Aussie assisting in two of the Celtic goals, scored by McGregor and then Leigh Griffiths.

If anyone will be giving the Aberdeen defence sleepless nights ahead of Sunday’s game its Tom Rogic and Celtic’s 4-2-3-1 formation. If Celtic are to win this, both need to be employed from the start on Sunday. I’ve a feeling they will be and it should be enough to give Celtic the advantage.

Aberdeen’s defensive formation and the tight pitch at Pittodrie made closing space easier for Derek McInnes’s team, the open expanses of Hampden will be more akin to playing at Celtic Park and Celtic can use this to their advantage. Diego Laxalt and Jeremie Frimpong will have more space to link with Moi Elyounoussi and Ryan Christie respectively, and the Aberdeen’s defence lack of pace and mobility should be challenged more than they would within the confines of Pittodrie.

And talking of partnerships, the almost telepathic understanding Albian Ajeti and Moi Elyounoussi, evidenced to great effect on Thursday night, also need to be continued. Relationships in the wide areas are blossoming and getting Moi, Christie and Rogic to play more games with Ajeti could be the key to taking such improvements into the central areas.

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Ajeti hasn’t been hitting the goal trail of late but if Odsonne Edouard still isn’t up to starting then getting Ajeti’s work rate up front could prove vital. Playing as a solo striker may limit his goalscoring chances and he appears a player who thrives on just that, but someone should have a word in his ear and tell him we’re all delighted with his effort, the goals will follow if he keeps that up.

If there is one area of concern for Celtic it continues to be the defence and defending set pieces in particular. The probable loss of Kris Ajer therefore is a real blow, however, the timely return of Nir Bitton and hopefully Hatem abd Elhamed should mean we are suitably covered.

It will mean yet another partner for the much-maligned Shane Duffy, and you have to feel for the big fella who has had more partners than Zsa Zsa Gabor of late but it’s a case of needs must for Shane. He’ll be happy enough to play his way back into form rather than drop out the team, and he should do well to remember the old adage that form is temporary and class is permanent. It may well be Duffy and whatever partner or partners he plays with this weekend return a much needed and overdue clean sheet, a cup semi-final at Hampden would be the perfect place to deliver it.

It will be interesting to see which of the Celtic goalkeepers takes the gloves on Saturday. Neither inspire confidence at the moment and it could be Lennon’s claims that Scott Bain is in with a shout of being number one is more designed to get Vasilis Barkas to pull up his purple socks, while at the same time ensuring Bain feels he has a chance of keeping the gloves.

If this Jedi mind trick from Lenny doesn’t work there may be movement towards an alternative ‘keeper come the new year, as reported on The Celtic Star earlier today. Until then it’s wise to make one feel he needs to up his game and the other to believe he has a chance of being Celtic’s long-term number one, which he doesn’t.

Keeping Aberdeen in check

Once again Celtic need to be wary of Aberdeen’s buying of cheap free kicks and encouraging contact in the box, but we’ve seen them up close now and we should be ready for that. Ryan Hedges and Lewis Ferguson will need to be stopped and that’s why I believe Olivier Ntcham will drop to the bench and Scott Brown will come in to keep any eye on the troublemakers. There are no tricks Ferguson and Hedges can pull that Brown hasn’t done himself over the years. There will therefore be a Gamekeeper role for the captain on Sunday.

Celtic’s matchwinner

Tom Rogic is the man Aberdeen will fear the most and his ability to get on the half turn on that big Hampden pitch will cause Aberdeen’s defence all sorts of problems. If the big Aussie can get past the protection in front of the Aberdeen defence, he’s up against three defenders with little mobility and even less pace. If they are drawn towards Rogic he’ll thread balls to Ajeti, Christie and Moi, if they aren’t drawn like a moth to a flame then Joe Lewis in the Aberdeen goal is likely to see a Rogic strike nestling behind him.

Celtic back at Hampden in December

This should make for a good cup semi-final and it’s worth remembering when it comes to semi-finals in the Scottish Cup Celtic haven’t lost to Aberdeen since 1983 and the last time we met in 2019, Celtic won 3-0. We are therefore a bit of a bogey team in the cups for Aberdeen.

It’s a record I’m sure Celtic will extend on Sunday. I’m feeling confident the Celts have turned a corner and certain we’ve a few goals in our team, I’m so confident in fact I’m also predicting Celtic to win to nil and bring home the clean sheet that will instil the same confidence in the backline that the goalscoring return to form has afforded our attack.

Tom Rogic to score and a 3-0 wins sounds just about right, as Celtic head back to Hampden in December for a crack at a Quadruple Treble.

Niall J

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About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was the finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parkhead's gates.

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