Celtic travel to Tynecastle tomorrow afternoon ready to take on Hearts in a potential title-winning match knowing that victory will seal a second successive League title under the guidance of Ange Postecoglou.
With 5 games left to play, Celtic hold a 13-point advantage at the top of the table and a 31st league win of the season would see Celtic crowned as Champions for the 53rd time
Ahead of the potential title-winning party, Ange Postecoglou confirmed the absence from the matchday squad of three defenders. Cameron Carter-Vickers will miss the rest of the season following surgery on a long-standing knee injury; Alistair Johnston is expected to miss the next 3 to 4 weeks after picking up an injury in the cup semi-final last weekend; while Stephen Welsh is out with a minor knock sustained in training.
Defensive injury concerns aside, Celtic have a full-strength squad for the trip to Edinburgh and one of Scotland’s more hostile away venues.
The sides have met four times this season with Celtic emerging victorious on each occasion. Goals from Kyogo and Giakoumakis sealed an early season win at Celtic Park before the sides played out an epic 7-goal thriller at Tynecastle in October.
The October fixture was Celtic’s first domestic experience of VAR and set the tone of strange decisions going against Celtic that has continued throughout the season. Despite some dodgy VAR calls, Celtic dug deep in a game that saw the lead change hands on a couple of occasions before Greg Taylor slid home the winner with 15 minutes to play.
It was also the game that saw Aaron Mooy come of age as a Celtic player and prove his worth to the team after a slow start.
A March double-header followed with Celtic winning 3-1 at home on league duty and 3-0 at Tynecastle in the Scottish Cup. Kyogo found the net in both games, taking his season’s tally against Hearts to 3 in 3 appearances; Kyogo was an unused sub in October’s 4-3 win.
From a Celtic perspective, the motivation to win the game is simple; winning the game means tying up the League title with four games to spare.
Celtic have been relentless in their pursuit of the title and that is not expected to change now that the goal is within reach.
The defensive injuries noted by Ange open up starting possibilities for Anthony Ralston and Yuki Kobayashi. The latter has been particularly impressive in his rare appearances so far, with his composure on the ball a real stand-out quality. Anthony Ralston has endured an injury-hit campaign as back-up to Juranovic and Johnston and will be aiming to see out the season as first-choice right back.
Another player who may benefit from the defensive absentees is Bosun Lawal. The highly rated young Irish defender, who made his debut against Morton earlier this season, will likely earn a spot on the bench thanks to Welsh’s injury.
With a full squad from middle to front, minus James Forrest, Ange is likely to go with the strongest available selections for Sunday’s game. Now is not the time for sentimentally to take over and strong midfield and attack will be needed to make sure the three points come home to Glasgow.
Callum McGregor should anchor the midfield with Matt O’Riley also set to start alongside Reo Hatate.
The Japanese midfielder had an off day against Rangers last week following his return from injury, however, his match-winning abilities will likely see him start again tomorrow.
Last Sunday’s match-winner Jota should also start on the wing with Maeda and hammerer of Hearts, Kyogo through the middle.
While Celtic will play to win, Hearts will no doubt set up to frustrate the Hoops and play for a draw or a breakaway goal.
It will be up to Celtic to break them down, but with 12 goals scored against the Gorgie side in 4 games this season, the odds are looking good for another Celtic win and the Coronation of Celtic as Champions again.
Potential starting line-up