As we gear up for another League Cup Semi-final at Hampden Park against St Johnstone tomorrow, it feels great to be heading into this one with a glow of optimism. Last year was bitterly disappointing on all fronts for Celtic Football Club, made only modestly easier by the completion of a quadruple treble from the previous season. This time feels a lot different.
Ange gave an injury update at his Fan Media press conference the other day which revealed that we had near enough a full complement of players to choose from, aside from the long-term absentees, Christopher Jullien and Greg Taylor. Ange was sitting on the fence in regards to whether or not Tom Rogic and Carl Starfelt would be available for selection on Saturday, stating that they were ‘touch and go’. I have a sneaking suspicion at least one might be ready for Saturday which could spring a pleasant surprise by all accounts.
Tom Rogic has been in sensational form this season since his compatriot arrived at the gates of Celtic Park. Meanwhile, Carl Starfelt has been given a fair amount of stick by certain quarters of the Celtic Support since he made the move from the Russian League with Rubin Kazan.
However, before that niggling hamstring injury the player was coming into his own beside Cameron Carter-Vickers at the heart of the Celtic defence. I have no doubts that Carl will become a stalwart for this club and we may well see him come Saturday evening.
Celtic are a team absolutely brimming with confidence at the minute, after wins over Ferencvaros and Dundee before the International break. Our front three in particular will be itching to get out on that big Hampden pitch tomorrow to show what they are capable of, again. Kyogo and Jota are both wired into the same matrix as one another and Liel Abada has a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
Having said that, after Ange Postecoglou confirmed that James Forrest is in the best condition he’s been in since the Greek-Aussie set foot in Paradise, I would like to see James starting on the right-hand side of that three tomorrow evening.
Celtic have missed James Forrest something chronic of late. You notice the immeasurable difference James makes to the team when he comes back in and we all bare witness to that pace and directness. A feature we have lacked at times this season and even the one before. The spark Forrest provides on that wing cannot be overstated enough, which is why I would like to see him in a starting berth come kick off against St Johnstone. He must be desperate to get back out there and he loves a cup tie does James. So go on, Ange. Give him the nod.
As far as the midfield goes, I reckon he will start with Bitton, Cal Mac and Turnbull. Bitton has been a player that has come in for a lot of criticism at Celtic in recent times. But I would say you only have to look at the difference when he plays his natural position. Nir allows Callum that freedom to go and roam and take the game to other teams. I am unequivocal in my belief Callum is wasted as a deep-lying midfielder.
He’s far more effective further up the pitch in the danger zones. Granted Nir isn’t as quick as moving the ball, but he’s a fine technical footballer, make no mistake about it. He also has that great attribute of height and athleticism about him too. Something I think will be crucial against Callum Davidson’s side.
The opposition will do what they always do and try and be physical and hard to break down. Celtic must not engage with their tactics and bullish approach. Play our game, not theirs. Without a shadow of a doubt their biggest threat will come from set-plays, meaning we must be on our toes at all times.
If St Johnstone take the lead and sit in, we could have a major problem on our hands. We must try and score an early goal to settle everyone down. Underestimate the Saints at our peril – they have had some decent results at this place of late and will no doubt fancy another upset. Be vigilant. Don’t be too casual in our approach to the build-up play. Do what we need to do and blow them away, Celtic.
We have a fantastic opportunity for Ange to get to his fist Cup Final as Celtic manager. Better still, we have the chance to really put some wind behind the sails in this campaign after the blip of Livingston at home several weeks ago. Hammer them tomorrow and send out a message to everybody else: ‘we are coming for you’. The focus has been elsewhere this week, let’s do our best to see that it is our name that’s on the Scottish football agenda again. We can do this by putting in another spectacular display of football at Hampden Park tomorrow.
In Ange we trust!