The last time Celtic faced Dundee two months ago, they were preparing to open up their Champions League campaign against Feyenoord in Rotterdam three days later.
Tony Docherty’s side have enjoyed a solid start to their first season back in the Premiership, and they find themselves just outside the top six as we approach the half-way stage of the campaign.
Back in September, Celtic had to put on a second-half show to finally break down the Tayside club 3-0 at Celtic Park. It was the type of performance Celtic fans have become accustomed to this season – a frustrating, goalless first period, with the Hoops finally breaking down their opponents in the second half.
Who will claim Hatate’s jersey?
The quality of Japanese midfielder Reo Hatate has never been in doubt. One of the reasons why Celtic struggled to create chances in the early stages of this season was due to the lack of flair, creativity and a killer pass from Celtic’s midfielders. It has been an glaring issue whilst Hatate has been injured.
Hatate is exactly the type of player who is capable of taking those risks that other players aren’t willing to, whether it be a long cross-field pass or a ball over the top of the defence for Celtic’s pacey wingers to run on to.
Hatate also provides more energy in Celtic’s midfield, whether it be his pressing or his ruthless tenacity. His energy levels in the midfield also allow for a lot of pressure to be taken off the shoulders of captain Callum McGregor, who instantly looks more comfortable with the Japanes midfielder alongside him.
Since Celtic’s playmaker was injured in October against Atlético Madrid, Brendan Rodgers has struggled to find a replacement from within. Odin Holm, Paulo Bernardo, David Turnbull and Tomoki Iwata have all be given game-time, with noone grasping the nettle. Who will start at Dens Park this afternoon? All four players come with their merits, but the manager seems to favour Bernardo at the moment and he is most likely to claim the jersey.
Unlocking the importance of Kyogo
Kyogo Furuhashi has been a talismanic figure in this Celtic squad for two years now. A Celtic State of Mind has previously highlighted the importance of a player who can step up and drag the team out of the mire and Kyogo is more than capable of doing just that. But he hasn’t done this enough recently.
Whilst Celtic were 1-0 against Dundee three months ago, Kyogo showed his intelligence to break beyond the Dundee defence and head home a phenomenal lofted McGregor pass.
His involvement in Celtic’s third may have been even better as he linked up well with Matt O’Riley and teed up the Dane for him to power home the goal that wrapped up the points for Celtic.
Furuhashi’s importance to the team cannot be understated, but he has scored just three times in the 14 league games since beating Dundee 3-0. Grabbing the opener against Livingston would have been pivotal in regaining his confidence, but he will need to follow this up today in preparation for the Rangers game on the 30th.
Learning to lock the back door
One of Celtic’s biggest problems this season has been how weak we are at the back. We are simply too easy to score against, particularly at set-pieces.
Many Celtic supporters expected the £7.3m investments of Gustaf Lagerbielke and Maik Nawrocki to feature far more prominently this season, but they have barely made an impact.
This led to the resurgence of Liam Scales, who has kept the two new signings and Nat Phillips out of the side all season.
With the trust of the manager and a good run of form under his belt, Scales is now one of the first names on the team-sheet, but we still need defensive reinforcements in January, with left-back an absolute priority.
JAMES MCKENZIE // Follow James HERE