AS we told you previously, James Forrest and Callum McGregor will take no part in this evening’s Champions League Qualifier which kicks off at 6pm Celtic Park Time. In fact the two Celtic stalwarts didn’t even travel to Estonia with the Celtic party and instead will be watching the game on Celtic TV like the vast majority of the Celtic support.
McGregor played more minutes of professional football that anyone else in the world last season and Neil Lennon is mindful of his mainstays suffering from burnout. Kieran Tierney has been sidelined for pretty much all of this year and the likes of Forrest, skipper Scott Brown and one or two others have been carrying a particularly heavy load for the club over these past three trophy laden seasons.
Celtic built up an big lead last week against Nomme Kalju so go into today’s return leg in Tallinn with a 5-0 lead and a team selection that will involve players who haven’t featured so much and a few making their debuts.
Craig Gordon is likely to be in goals, making his first competitive start since his impressive performance a Ibrox at the end of December.
Christopher Jullien, who is suspended at the weekend for the opening league match (or as Celtic fans call it, Flag Day), will make his competitive debut this evening. Jozo Simunovic is also banned for Flag Day after his sending off in that pre-season match in Switzerland and is likely to play alongside the £7million signing from Toulouse this evening.
Olivier Ntcham is likely to play as is Scotty Sinclair while Lewis Morgan and Mikey Johnston will both feature.
Speaking at his media conference yesterday evening after arriving in Tallinn, Neil Lennon explained his reasoning.
“We’ve left McGregor and Forrest at home as those two have played a LOT of football,” he said.
“It’s a good opportunity to give them a little bit of respite because the games are going to come thick and fast again.
“I want to win this game. I think it would be good for keeping the momentum going, so we’ll still put a very strong team out.”
McGregor finished his season in mid June playing for Scotland in Brussels in the Euro Qualifier and had less than a fortnight’s break for his summer holidays before reporting back for ‘pre-season’ training at Lennoxtown. Asked if he reckons there is a danger of players like McGregor and Forrest being overplayed the Celtic manager agreed.
“Exactly – Callum has been away on international duty in the summer too, so he hasn’t really had much of a break.
“Even though it’s only a couple of days, I think even that will be very good for Callum mentally and physically, as it will be for Jamesie.”
On his central defensive partnership this evening, this could be the first viewing of things to come.
“It’s important they play and play well, whether that be for the short-term or the long-term going forward.
“Some of them are itching to play. We’ve got Olivier Ntcham back as well now and he’ll be looking for game-time. They are quality players, we’re talking about players like Craig Gordon here — Scotland’s No.1 for a long time.
“It’s not as if we are taking the tie lightly, we’re just giving some good players who haven’t had the opportunity to play a chance to play.”
And as is usually the case there was a question for the Celtic manager about RANGERS. A hack wanted to know what Lennon thought of the comments from one of the new players at Ibrox – think he is a recent arrival on loan – Sheyi Ojo who apparently reckons that his ‘new club’ has a better team than Celtic.
“I don’t know what it’s based on, but he is entitled to his opinion. It just washes over us,” Lenny said as reported in Scottish Sun.
“We are here to play in the Champions League. We’ve had a great start to this tie, so it doesn’t matter what people say.
“We just get on with what we are doing. We know what our focus is at the minute. We get through this tie then look forward to the campaign kicking off on Saturday.
“I don’t think our players have to justify themselves in any way, shape or form. To be fair to them, over the last few years they have done that very well.”
You can listen to Neil Lennon’s Champions League Media Conference from Tallinn on Celtic TV below…
The Celtic side might look something like this
Abd Elhamed Jullien Simunovic Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo
Morgan Johnston Sinclair