Celtic’s Covid-19 impacted squad will mean that the team will go into today’s match with theRangers without some regular starters. Nir Bitton and Hatem Abd Elhamed have of course tested positive for the virus and we wish them a full and speedy recovery. Odsonne Edouard is back following his own positive test while away with the French Under 21 squad and it would be a shock indeed if he even made even the bench this weekend. Though if he had even 20 minutes in his legs it would be enough to strike fear into our opponents.
Who can forget how French Eddy’s introduction from the bench in the League Cup final win last year? It was a game changer and left today’s opponents panicking. His mere presence on the bench may be enough to plant the seeds of doubt today.
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Also missing is of course Ryan Christie – keep an eye on that one and whether Ex-Celt Kieran Tierney makes the Arsenal team against Manchester City tonight, if he does big questions need to be asked – and for a team already missing James Forrest and with doubts surrounding Albian Ajeti’s recovery from a hamstring injury, it may be that opportunity knocks for a couple of players with enough ability to impact on the big occasion and they’ve proven they can before.
The closure of the transfer window saw a streamlined squad emerge but one with quality in depth. The absence of Christie and likely Edouard means there are fewer concerns amongst the Celtic support despite a spate of call-offs than we may otherwise have felt. The reason for the lack of worry is surely the quality of player who can step into the gaps.
Olivier Ntcham’s quality has never been in question, yet there has always been a nagging doubt that the Frenchman doesn’t deliver on a regular basis, whether that perception is fair or not I’ve never been quite able to decide. What isn’t in question is that Ntcham likes a big game and they don’t come much bigger than this.
One of the conundrum’s surrounding Ntcham is that he seems capable of turning it on when the pressure is on but seems a little disinterested when the bread and butter games come around. That’s probably why he gets a run of games but often finds himself dropping back out the team.
Yet Ntcham is one of the most naturally gifted players in Celtic’s squad and one with the vision, passing range and ability to run a game from central midfield, he can also be a goal threat. His performance in the 5-0 win over theRangers at Celtic Park in April 2018 showed what he’s all about. Here’s a reminder…
The young Frenchman also impressed in the 3-2 win at Ibrox when the 10 men emerged victorious and broke the hearts of a confident Ibrox team. Similarities ahead of today’s game there I’m sure you’ll agree.
Yet the stand out performance came in September 2018 as Celtic and Ntcham controlled the game from start to finish, there were doubts creeping in however that such dominance may not be rewarded with the victory it deserved. We needn’t have worried as Ntcham added the icing on the cake to a brilliant counter attack and personal performance in the game with the winning goal.
Olivier Ntcham is likely to make the starting eleven today, he also has a point to prove and a history of fine performances against theRangers. Keep an eye on the lad, these encounters suit the big game Bhoy.
The other player with a habit of producing in big games then turning in an average performance against the lesser lights is Moi Elyounousssi. If you believe the apparent leaked team ahead of today’s game Elyounoussi may start on the bench, if he does it’s a bit of a curveball from Neil Lennon. He was sent out to face the media in yesterday’s press conference and that would seem a strange decision if he wasn’t part of Lenny’s plans today. Of course, that could be from the bench but either way Moi will have a part to play today and he has the ability to hurt our opponents.
His best two games in a Celtic shirt were probably the away game against Lazio in Rome and in the 5-2 League Cup semi-final win against Hibs. Ntcham of course took the plaudits in Rome with the impudent chipped finish in injury time but Elyounousssi was the best player on the park that night. To have such a controlling impact against a Lazio side who pushed Juventus all the way in the Italian title race says it all. There isn’t a chance Moi will be facing the level of opponent he faced that night a repeat of that showing will have theRangers defence chasing shadows.
The other standout performance came at Hampden in the league cup semi-final against Hibs. Two goals and a man of the match performance saw Celtic into the league cup final and showed Moi, bereft of confidence when he joined on loan from Southampton, had the mentality to play for Celtic in the big games. Today Moi Elyounoussi can transfer that mental strength to a derby encounter of that I have no doubt.
We have players missing today and it appears our opponents sense an opportunity and once again their loyal lapdogs are talking them up in the press. But Celtic have shown before they do their talking on the park.
When the teams go head to head to today expect Moi to be the Bhoy and Ntcham the man to influence the game and underline the quality and depth in this Celtic squad. It will be just that depth which will be the difference over the course of the season. Celtic will have the chance to show that off this afternoon and these two players could have a massive impact on the outcome. Opportunity knocks today for Moi and Ntcham. Expect both to answer.
Before you go watch this which was specially recorded for The Celtic Star by Danny Kelly…