Does Celtic manager Neil Lennon know his strongest eleven?

With many of our crocked players coming back to fitness approaching the critical end of the season what is our strongest and best 11 and what is the best system to play?

Does Lenny know 100%?

There are certain players that when fit will walk into a starting spot no matter what system we adopt

FRASER FORSTER
CHRISTOPHER JULLIEN
SCOTT BROWN
CALLUM MCGREGOR
ODSONNE EDOUARD

This basically leaves 6 starting places up for grabs.

Certain players who were once certainties are no longer such I’m not saying that in the future they won’t become mainstays again but in their absences due to whatever reason(s) opportunities have been availed to others who have grabbed them and appear to have made the position their own for the time being at least.

The two main ones who immediately spring to mind are Ryan Christie and more long-term, Tom Rogic.

Christie missed out on a fair few games after the break through a combination of suspension and injury. Fortunately or otherwise the injury rather negated his three match ban and in his absence Olivier N’tcham has taken over the mantle which Christie had enjoyed.

Once back to full match fitness it will be interesting to see whether Christie slots back into the starting eleven at N’tcham’s expense or whether the pair will battle it out for supremacy in that position.

Rogic’s situation is a bit more complexed in as much as he’s missed far more playing time and seems a shadow of the player he was in Brendan Rodgers’ initial 2 seasons and until he was kidnapped by the Australian National side at the end of 2018 and delivered back injured.

Whereas Rogic was pivotal in the 1st Elevens of both Ronny Deila and Rodgers, injury deprived Lenny of his effectiveness for long long spells and, truth be told, he”s never reached his previous levels of brilliance.

The right back/right wing back berth depending on the adopted system has three players vying for the second position JeremieFrimpong, Hatem Abd Elhamed and Moritz Bauer.

As our players Frimpong and Elhamed when fit should take preference over loanee Bauer, added to the fact that in my opinion both are better players than the Austria.

The fact that Frimpong is more of an attacking flair player I feel he’s better suited to the position of wing back than Elhamed and the fact that the Palestinian can be a useful centre back in a three at the back system if required I’d choose Frimpong as first pick. If he can bulk up a bit he can make the position his own.

Centre-backs, with Jullien a preferred option we are left with Kristoffer Ajer, Jozo Simunovic and Nir Bitton when required and the aforementioned Elhamed.

Ajer has come on leaps and bounds since returning from his loan spell at Kilmarnock a couple of seasons back where he was transformed from a midfielder to a centre-back.
He’s still learning that position and is susceptible to craziness and concentration lapses at times but his height and strength offer compensation for his pecadillos and he breaks from defence at pace with his long lolling stride.

Simunovic along with Julien I’d say was the most accomplished of the centre-backs, although his fitness and inability (or preference) not to play in plastic surfaces is a major drawback.

Bitton is more or less a utility player these days. As primarily a midfielder the abundance of other options at the Club, along with long term fitness issues has limited his appearances in his favoured position but he seems prepared to help out wherever and whenever required and has a good footballing head on his shoulders.

Left back / left-wing back is a dilemma for Lenny

Boli Bolingoli who seemed to be the preferred option at the start of the season has proved to be less than accomplished in that position and doesn’t instil too much confidence I’m afraid.

Whether he can’t grasp the thread of what’s being asked of him I’m unsure but left back isn’t his position.

He was NEVER going to live up to KT’s reputation and ability so was probably on a hiding to nothing before he even kicked a ball.

Jonny Hayes is a decent and honest player A work horse and speed merchant who is a willing practitioner in whatever position he’s asked to play in.

Greg Taylor is best of the three and since being given the opportunity and a run of games has shown the ability he displayed at Kilmarnock and made Celtic decide to bring him to Parkhead.

Midfield Broony and McGregor are both shoe-ins, Broony showed against Clyde that he is desperate to play in as many games as possible because he realises that his playing days are beginning to evaporate and he wants to savour the time he has remaining.

N’tcham has been a revelation since the winter break I don’t know what Lenny has said to him but he’s started to look interested again as if he REALLY wants to be here.
I’m not sure if he’s putting himself in the shop window hoping to attract suitors in the summer or if he’s realised that Titles, Trebles and hopefully Champions League football next season are pretty good options and the grass isn’t always greener elsewhere

Look at Armstrong, Wanyama and even Forster and although a different scenario KT.

Mohamed Elyounoussi looked the part until he was crocked and missed a fair chunk of games Good to see Moi coming back for the run in. Hopefully he can regain his previous injury form until the end of the season.

James Forrest…He”s been here forever. He has the ability and the guile but more often than not doesn’t produce, at least not to the standards that we know he can. When Paddy Roberts was here he had competition driving him on and with Lewis Morgan now Stateside and Mikey Johnston not the finished article he probably needs more competition for his place. I doubt Marian Shved will supply much pressure in that respect.

Up front Odsonne Edouard is the classiest and best player in Scotland bar NONE. I reckon he’s the best striker we’ve had at the Club since Larsson and that includes Moussa Dembele.
We’ve had a fair few decent ones over the past 15 years Gary Hooper, Scott McDonald Georgios Samaras, Anthony Stokes, Maciej Żurawski, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Chris Sutton but Eddy is the best of the lot.

For a 22 year old he makes it look so easy and he”s getting better all the time We really need to enjoy him for as long as we can because I really cannot see him being around much longer Hopefully I’m proved wrong. We’ll see soon enough.

Leigh Griffiths? I just love the wee guy. Got the shitty-end of the stuck when Rodgers arrived as he made Dembele his preferred option and only playing 1 up front. Leigh’s opportunities were really limited although when he got his chances he always delivered.

Now he appears to be on his way back to hopefully his previous levels and ability
Hopefully his personal problems are behind him and he is around for a good whiie yet.

Vakoun Bayo? Nah!

Patryk Klimala? From what we’ve seen of him so far could possibly do us a turn. Not fully match fitness yet but looking forward to seeing what he can do.

We’ve still to see anything of our most recent signing Ismaila Soro.

So after all of that I”ll be honest I’m still not 100% certain who our best eleven are but with the squad of players Lenny has at his disposal hopefully Quadruple Treble and an extended Europa League run are on the cards.

Bill Cowie

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The Celtic Star founder and editor, who has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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