Toxic levels of hate should go through the roof when Celtic win on Sunday. Because of the corona virus I don’t think there’ll be much hand shaking at the end. But perhaps Scott Brown can give Morelos a little friendly pat on the head. Rangers outplayed Celtic in the last two games and won at Parkhead. That latter game, in particular, there was a lot of talk about Celtic not being able to play as badly as they did at Hampden. They played worse at Parkhead and got nothing. Rangers deserved to win.
Fraser Foster, apart from that blip at Livingston has been arguably, Lennon’s best signing. He’ll need to deal better with cross balls. As will the Celtic defence, in general.
There’s nothing worse than defenders getting beaten in the air and losing a goal from a cross ball. Niko Katic’s winner for Rangers at Parkhead, could, ironically, mean no place in the team for Jeremie Fringpong, who was probably our best player in the two games against Rangers in December and January.
If we go with three at the back, as I expect, then Nir Bitton is the one holding the jersey. I’m not a great fan of Bitton, but in the last few games he has looked composed on the ball. An outside bet for this position is the Israeli, Hatem Abed Elahamed. He was outstanding when we last visited Ibrox and for most other games before his injury. He’s came on as a substitute recently, but I reckon he won’t be match fit. He won’t start.
Kristopher Ayer and Christopher Julien are certain starters. The latter got bullied at Livingston recently, but is a goal threat from corners. Even Ayer is scoring goals. But both lost personal battles in the last Old Firm fixtures to Moerelos. Let’s hope the Ibrox striker continues to miss easy chances against the Celts. Jozo Simunovic, whose howlers have led him to being dropped from the squad, may reappear on the bench here. I don’t expect him to start.
Greg Taylor looks to have tied up the left-back/midfield slot. After a good start, he’s not been great recently. Against Livingston he kept bringing the ball backwards and was very poor. Only when James Forest switched wings with Taylor, after the former Killie player was taken off, did a Celtic player run by the Livingston full back on the left hand wing and reach the bye-line.
Neil Lennon has the option of Boli Bolongoli Mbongo. But he’s a dud. Sell him now. I’d go with Jonny Hayes, who can now be classified as a veteran. Ironically, the two players that have been brought in to fill this spot—haven’t—although Taylor might get to the level of being a regular on merit, rather than necessity.
James Forest is a certain starter. If he’s ineffectual as he usually is, then Lennon likes to bring Fringpong for him. But Forest gives you goals. Fringpong, usually, doesn’t.
Calum McGregor will play in the middle with Scott Brown. The Celtic captain usually bosses it against Rangers, but that’s been missing recently. McGregor is the best midfielder in Scotland. He can play anywhere and do everything: defend, attack, dribble, pass, and score goals. If it wasn’t for Odsonne Edouard, I’d be saying he’s the best player in Scottish football.
Here’s where it gets a bit confusing when we try and second-guess Lennon. The Celtic manager was brave playing Mikey Johnston at Parkhead. Johnston is an old-fashioned winger that is so talented he goes by people for fun and can score goals. But against Rangers he’s been awful. He’s injured anyway.
If we’re going with only one up front—by that we mean Edouard—then Mohammed Elyounoussi is likely to start. He started against Livingston, instead of Griffiths, but the Southampton player here on loan did not stand out and was subbed. Griffiths, as we all know, scored a hat trick against St Mirren. The Paisley team did not make a tackle and simply conceded, Rangers are far more likely to make it more difficult. If Lennon does go with two up front, Griffiths gets his place on merit.
But here we go with the wildcard. It might even be, whisper it, Vakoun Issouf Bayo. With the Ibrox pitch a mud patch, the big target man, might get a sniff. As unlikely as Rangers winning the league, but you never know.
Tom Rogic was given a game in the stroll against St Mirren. He’d be a certain starter if Brendan Rodgers was still talking about loyalty and picking the Celtic team. He isn’t and in this kind of battle Oliver Ntcham looked a stick-on to start, but since his injury that looks far more unlikely.
Ryan Christie looks to have the position by default. He’s scored twenty-plus goals this season, never stops running, is a great passer and great at free kicks. He’s good in the air too for his size. The downside, like many other Celtic players, was he was rotten in the other Old Firm games. That’s always a worry. But I think he’ll play in front of Rodgic and possibly Ntcham. He might even play on the right in Forest’s place, with Forest going to the left in place of Taylor.
That would leave no room, not just for Taylor, but Griffiths, Rogic, Elyounoussi. Edouard is our ace in the pack. Whoever plays with or against them, he’s better all-round. If we can defend our box, that’s why we’ll win. I’m not going to say we can’t play as bad again. We’ve proved we can again and again. We’ve got better players and should win. I’m repeating myself. Let’s prove it.
I think Celtic will go with Forster, back three of Biton, Jullien, Ayer. Forest on the right, Taylor on the left. In the middle of the middle, McGregor and Brown. Christie playing behind Edouard and Griffiths.
[McGregor and Griffiths to score. We’ll win 2—1 (I hope]