Saturday’s defeat against Rangers saw Ange Postecoglou make three changes to the winning starting eleven he put out against Hearts.
With two forced changes already made recently due to the injuries of both Cameron Carter-Vickers and Alistair Johnson, it begs the question, why make another three unforced changes for the final derby of the season?
Ange decided to start with South Korean striker Oh Hyeon-gyu, replacing the league’s top-scorer Kyogo Furuhashi, a decision that certainly raised few eyebrows before the match. Oh has shown promise at times when coming on as a sub. His strength and ability in the six-yard box has shone through in his early appearances.
However, we have seen multiple times over the season the problems that Kyogo causes the Rangers defence. He is often unplayable. Oh simply cannot offer you what Kyogo can. Kyogo’s ability to constantly make the correct runs in behind the defence is second to none.
The South Korean had a big chance to prove his doubters wrong just after the six-minute mark when he was put through one-on-one with Robby McCrorie. The striker chipped the ball over the keeper, but it hit the post and ricocheted away from goal. Unfortunately, the question has to be asked, would Kyogo have scored? I think the answer is yes.
An Equaliser that early on would have made a massive difference and, quite frankly, completely changed the dynamic of the game.
Ange’s second change was to bring in left-back Alexandro Bernabei for fan favourite Greg Taylor.
Taylor’s performances this season have been exceptional, with many fans tipping him for Player of the Year.
Bernabei has struggled to feature much this season, playing only 14 times in the league. So, again, why did Ange feel like Saturday’s game was the one for him? Although Bernabei didn’t do anything horrendously wrong, at times the full-back looked a little off the pace and was often caught out in possession.
Celtic are to be without top defender Carter-Vickers for the remainder of the season, which has seen young central defender Yuti Kobayashi come in as his replacement. Another change that Ange has been forced to make recently was bringing in Anthony Ralston for the injured Johnson. Looking at the back four ahead of the Rangers game, Ange was already missing two of his usual starting defence. Another reason why we can’t quite get our heads around the decision to start another inexperienced defender in Bernabei.
A third change by Ange saw Liel Abada replace Daizen Maeda. Another one that affected the game in a big way.
This change saw Abada playing out on the right, pushing Jota out left where Maeda would normally roam. Jota has been outstanding this season, there is no doubt he is by far one of our star players and an incredible talent. However, the Portuguese winger does not have the defensive attributes that were needed on Saturday.
By starting Kobayashi at left centre-back and Bernabei at left-back, the left side of defence was extremely inexperienced, weak and at times vulnerable. This is where Celtic could have done with Maeda’s defensive ability. The Japanese winger’s work-rate and attributes in the defensive third are as important as he is going forward. This was something that was massively missed at the weekend.
Ange would eventually make changes after 62 minutes. However, this would inevitably be too late. Although the correct changes, they would have ideally been made at half-time. Just after the hour mark Ange brought on Kyogo and Maeda for Oh and Abada. There was immediate impact from Kyogo, who made two fantastic runs in behind the Rangers defence causing instant problems. The introduction of Kyogo also seemed to rejuvenate his team-mate, Reo Hatate, who beforehand looked tired and was not having the best of games. However, maybe he just didn’t have Oh creating the options that he would have liked.
Scottish Cup final
The reason for the changes may have been to rest players for the Scottish Cup final against Inverness at the end of the season, but Ange has three league games ahead where that can be done. If resting players is a priority for him then there is plenty of time still to do so. Saturday was definitely not the right time to tinker with the starting XI.
Some may argue that the league is won and Rangers cannot take anything but three points from the game. Over the weekend we have heard a lot of comments about Rangers winning the “take three points off Celtic Cup”. But this isn’t the mentality that is going to take Celtic forward. We should want to be winning every single game, especially against Rangers. It is as simple as that.
We have given them something to build on for next season, a glimmer of hope that they might not actually be that far away from us. Saturday’s defeat also shows that if you take three or four players out the starting eleven, the difference between the two sides is not as big as we thought.