- Hoops Hopes For Derby Day
~~~~~~~~~~~ Official TC Match Preview ~~~~~~~~~~
Liel Abada has been highly impressive since making his debut
Sunday, 29 August 2021
Season 2020/21 was undoubtedly one to forget for the Celtic faithful. After a dynasty that produced 9 successive league titles which culminated in four consecutive domestic trebles, only to see it crumble into the shambles that was to follow.
And to make matters worse, the manner of how seemingly easily they had allowed their grip on the league title to slip through their fingers was incredibly frustrating - not least of which of how Steven Gerrard's side were able to come out on top in 3 of the 4 league encounters between the Glasgow rivals, in addition to being dumped out of the Scottish Cup also.
Over the 5 games in total between the sides last seaosn, the best result that Celtic managed a single 1-1 draw, and in total scored just 2 goals while conceding 10.
In fact, Celtic have not managed to defeat the Govan side since December 2019, when Fraser Forster's heroics in the League Cup Final laid the way for that fourth consecutive treble, which seems like a lifetime ago - before barely anyone had even heard of Wuhan or Covid-19.
It does not make for easy or pleasing reading, but those are the facts.
But all of that is also in the past.
Sunday's game is all about the future.
And so it is with that Ange Postecoglou prepares the Bhoys make the short trip to the south side of the city for the first Glasgow derby clash this campaign.
And yet despite the run of recent history in this fixture, nothing is certain.
Apart from Thursday just past, Celtic have been firing on all cylinders when it comes to playing attacking football, and especially on the domestic front. However, the other end of the pitch continues to be plagued by defensive frailties.
As for the hosts, having come off an undefeated league campaign last term, they have looked far from convincing in the early days of this campaign, both domestically and in Europe.
The fact that neither side were able to win away from home this week in the Europa League (but still managed to both make it through to the Group Stages) underlines this.
If Celtic play to the potential that they have been in recent weeks, then there is a strong chance that the string of poor results in this head to head fixture could end on Sunday.
On the other hand, all it takes is one or two of those moments in the defence that all those that have witnessed the Bhoys play in the last few weeks and the hurt could continue.
The Celtic faithful will be tuning in to see (due to away fans not being allowed to attend) the Bhoys in action, seeking the kind of attractive, free-flowing attacking brand of football that Postecoglou has introduced and has won over so many of the doubters.
Yet this remains a work in progress, and the underlying defensive issues are evident of the work that still needs to be done.
Versatile defender Liam Scales signed for Celtic on Friday
To this end, in addition to last weekend's signing of fullback Josip Juranovic, early on Friday the club announced that versatile defender Liam Scales, 23, has been signed on a 4 year deal from Shamrock Rovers.
The hope will be that these two can provide more competition for places as well as strengthen the manager's defensive options, as steps are taken to address some of these defensive issues.
For the hosts, despite an apparent indifferent start to the season, where they suffered 3 consecutive losses, they have managed to stabilize the results, if not the performances quite to the same level.
And with the likelihood of some players missing through Covid concerns, it could potentially allow the Hoops to capitalize and get back on track after Thursday night's wobble.
But Celtic will need to overcome a run of poor form away from Parhead, as the Hoops have won just 4 of their 14 away games since the turn of the year, and have not won in the League away from home since the middle of February, and the one away win this season so far was 4-2 away at Jablonic.
Celtic will be hoping that Kyogo Furuhashi will be able to continue the superb start he has had to his career in Scotland, looking to add to the 7 goals he has already chalked up. There was a scare as he appeared to be hobbling slightly during the later stages of the match against AZ Alkmaar on Thursday, and that he will be fit and ready for Sunday's match.
Unfortunately there were negative headlines through the week - completely without fault of the player - after video footage emerged of fans on board a Rangers' supporter bus, engaging in a racially offensive and completely unacceptable chant directed at the Japanese international. Hopefully this can be used as motivation for Sunday.
The new Bhoy, Croatian fullback Josip Juranovic, is potentially available to make his debut on Sunday, while James Forrest and James McCarthy are also aiming to prove their fitness, after they missed out on Thursday.
Meanwhile the hosts have reported that a number of players and staff have tested postive for Covid and are self-isolating accordingly, yet while the exact number of players was not revealed, it is likely that this could also have a hand in the make up of their side that will take to the pitch on Sunday.
However, they do expect Kemar Roofe, John Lundstram, both of whom missed Thursday through suspension, to be eligible, as well as Scott Arfield returning from a recent lay-off due to a foot injury.
When asked about the recent trend in results in this derby fixture, Postecoglou had this to say:
"Whenever the pendulum swings one way or the other and there's dominance on one side or the other, you need at times to have that circuit-breaker just to swing momentum to us.
"That's more of a singular task for the weekend rather than something that's going to define our season. The challenge on the weekend is to face a strong opponent in their own backyard where the record is against us."
The Australian proceeded to expand on this thinking, and to put no just this upcomgn match but the last few weeks into a larger context:
"There will be defining moments throughout the season no doubt," he said. "For us, what's important is that we've had a really positive month so far in terms of improvement in our performances and getting reward for that.
"Sunday's another opportunity to build on that momentum, but it's the end of August and there's still a * of a lot of football to be played. We're not going to get carried away with whatever the outcome is."
Head to Head
P: 425 W: 159 D: 100 L: 166
Last 5 Meetings
Last Time Out
4 - 1
May 2, 2021