OLIVIER NTCHAM will lead Celtic out this evening in Cluj in the early kick-off Europa League match which is vital to the Romanian Champions. Celtic are already confirmed as Group winners but the hosts need a point to see off Lazio and confirm their spot in the knock-out round of 32.
The Frenchman, who seemed to be on his way out in the summer, completes a remarkable turnaround this evening by wearing the captain’s armband. Neil Lennon has left some of his mainstay stars back in Scotland and plans to throw in some of the development side with Scott Robertson set to play alongside the Frenchman in the centre of the Celtic midfield.
“Olivier Ntcham will be captain,” Lennon confirmed in Cluj last night, as reported by Herald. “I’m really pleased with his attitude and the way he’s training.”
Ntcham was getting ready to come on in the League Cup Final win over the Rangers on Sunday when Jeremie Frimpong’s red card forced a last minute change of plans and Nir Bitton was introduced to shore up the back four for the ten men of Celtic.
“He was unfortunate not to get game time on Sunday and I’m delighted with what he’s doing around the place. I want him to take that responsibility so he will be captain,” Lenny revealed.
And referring to Ntcham’s moody strop in the summer, it’s all water under the bridge now for the Celtic manager and his captain in Cluj.
“He said some things that he probably meant at the time but maybe some of it was taken out of context. We had a chat about it at the start of the season and he parked it and since then he has been absolutely terrific, so I have no qualms about making him captain.
“It’s nice to give someone different that responsibility and we’ll see if he can thrive on it.
“I think he has the personality and he certainly has the respect of his team-mates to do that.”
Lenny confirmed that Scott Brown didn’t travel with the squad – he is suspended after being booked against Rennes, and neither did Fraser Forster, Callum McGregor, Tom Rogic, Ryan Christie nor Odsonne Edouard.
“I can’t run the risk of injury in a game where there’s really nothing riding on it, with the five league games still to go before the break,” Lenny said.
“The league is the priority for us. We have 12 wins in a row but we’ve picked up a lot of injuries along the way and I need to protect some of the players who have played a high volume of games, and I need to get some of them up to speed as well for these games coming up.
“It’s a nice luxury to have, having already qualified, but we still have a strong team and a strong squad with us and it’s an opportunity for some of the younger ones to get that experience as well.
“A few will play tomorrow who haven’t played for a while, a few are coming back from injury and who need the games, and it’s important for me as a manager to balance that off.
“A few of them need a rest as well. I could have done without the game, but we’ve got the game, so for the guys who haven’t played that much it’s great for them and they’ll get a really tough 90 minutes, a good work out. We’re coming here to be competitive and to get something out of the game.
“What I’m looking for are the guys to work and get that feel of playing in a big game again and get the rustiness out of them. They will be part of the squad going forward.”
Yesterday morning we gave you an idea on what this evening’s Celtic team will look like and also reckoned that as a draw would suit both sides that is probably the most likely outcome. It might also be bad news for the bookies and it will certainly be bad news for Lazio who need to win away to Rennes and hope Celtic get the better of Cluj.
Honours even and bye, bye Lazio will do just fine.
Here’s Neil Lennon’s Media Conference in Cluj courtesy of Celtic FC’s You Tube Channel…
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