Following last week’s demolition job on Kilmarnock, Celtic take on Motherwell on Saturday afternoon in the final pre-split fixture of the league season. With Celtic enjoying the rare advantage of playing the day before Rangers, the Hoops have an opportunity to open up a 15-point lead at the top of the table.
The sides have met three times this season with Celtic coming out on top on all three occasions, however, Motherwell have made Celtic work for their wins.
Goals from Kyogo and Hatate secured a 2-1 win at Celtic Park early in October with the duo scoring again in a 4-0 win at Fir Park in the League Cup just a couple of weeks later. The last meeting of the sides, also at Fir Park, in November saw Kyogo once again on the scoresheet as Celtic recorded a hard-fought 2-1 win.
Kyogo has been in irrepressible form this season leading the scoring charts with 29 goals across all competitions. Having helped Celtic hit the 100 league goals mark last weekend, the target tomorrow for Kyogo is to reach the personal milestones of 30 goals for the season and 50 in total in the Hoops.
The Japanese forward has been nothing short of sensational since his arrival in Glasgow at the start of last season. Comparisons have been made to Henrik Larsson in terms of his temperament and ruthlessness in front of goal and these do not seem too far wide of the mark.
Ange delivered mixed news at his at weekly pre-match press conference. The manager confirmed that Cameron Carter-Vickers is available for selection after missing out last week, however, also confirmed the absence of Abada, Hatate, and Jota from tomorrow’s squad.
The return of Carter-Vickers is undoubtedly a boost ahead of next week’s Cup semi-final given the American’s leadership and defensive qualities. Yet, with continued speculation that Carter-Vickers is set to go under the knife before the season is out, concerns will still remain over the defender’s fitness.
However, the continued absence of Reo Hatate and Jota are also cause for concern with such a big match looming on the horizon. The duo has contributed 38 goals between them this season, highlighting their importance to creative output.
But with time running out on the season, and the league all but won already, Hatate and Jota’s absence has opened the door to Academy graduates Rocco Vata and Ben Summers to make their mark on the team.
Vata, in particular, had an impressive cameo at Rugby Park last weekend and came within a whisker of claiming his first senior assist. The young winger looked composed and assured on the ball and the early signs indicate that he is a very direct player who is happy to run at and commit defenders to tackles.
The hope would be that the league is tied up officially at the earliest possible juncture to give Ange the freedom to play the likes of Vata, Summers, and even the returning Dane Murray from the start in the closing games to aid their development for next season.
IWATA, KOBAYASHI, HAKSABANOVIC
While the injury updates help a little with team selection, the introduction of Iwata, Kobayashi, and Haksabanovic to the starting eleven at Kilmarnock opens up the question as to whether they should keep their place in the team going forwards.
Iwata, of course, replaced Aaron Mooy in the team following the latter’s poor display in the Glasgow Derby and did not put a foot wrong against Kilmarnock. He may only have played 383 minutes so far but Iwata is already looking a solid addition to the midfield.
Averaging 93% pass accuracy and 11 recoveries per 90 minutes, Iwata is showing the potential to fulfil a number of roles within the midfield set up, be it ‘regulator’, creator, or ball winner, Iwata looks the real deal.
Kobayashi’s place in the team is likely to be dictated by Carters-Vickers fitness. If fit, as he should be for tomorrow, then CCV will start alongside Starfelt at the back. However, Kobayashi is another who has shown in relatively few minutes (331 in his case) enough to suggest he will be a future starter.
Against Kilmarnock, Kobayashi brought balance to the backline as a left footed centre back. His ability to bring the ball out of defence and link play with midfield and attack was evidenced on several occasions; he even managed a secondary assist on O’Riley’s first goal of the afternoon, picking out Greg Taylor with a line splitting through pass.
While Iwata and Kobayashi excelled against Killie, Haksabanovic’s performance was little more underwhelming. The Montenegrin was tidy enough when he had the ball, but struggled to make an impression due to lack service in dangerous areas and playing in his least effective position – wide on the right.
Mitigating circumstances can be presented for this less than impactful performance, but this was not the first time this season he has had a chance to shine from the start and not taken it. That said, as a big fan of Haksabanovic’s abilities, given a decent run in the team, I am sure he will prove his worth in goals and assists. The bigger (and grass) pitch of Celtic Park tomorrow may also help his game.