The closing games of the season could provide a chance for some of Ange’s fringe players to shine and remind the manager of their importance ahead of next season.
In the post-match podcast following yesterday’s Glasgow Derby win against Rangers in the Cup semi-final, Paul John Dykes raised the possibility of Ange wrapping certain players in cotton wool going into the final games of the season. With that, there would be an opportunity for the likes of Oh, Kobayashi, or Rocco Vata to push themselves further up the reckoning.
Yesterday’s result now leaves Celtic needing just two wins – one in the league and one in the Cup final – to secure a world record 8th domestic Treble. With several players reportedly carrying knocks or in need of game time, now would seem like an opportune moment to make some changes and challenge the fringe players in the squad to prove their worth.
CCV Out, Yuki In
One player who will definitely not feature again this season is American defender Cameron Carter-Vickers. Ange has already confirmed that yesterday’s game against Rangers will be Carters-Vickers last of the season as he prepares to undergo surgery on a troublesome knee injury.
Whilst obviously a big loss to the defence, Carter-Vickers prolonged absence will allow Japanese defender Yuki Kobayashi an extended run in the side. Kobayashi has looked composed and assured in possession in his fleeting appearances so far and brings natural balance to the backline as a left footed centre back.
Having been eased into the side since January, the closing games of the season and the chance to play in a Cup final, represent a fantastic opportunity for Kobayashi to stake a claim for a starting role next season.
Elsewhere along the back line, Alistair Johnston leaving Hampden in a moon boot could give Anthony Ralston the chance to end the season as first choice right back. Ralston has rarely let Celtic down since Ange’s arrival and, having had his own season hampered by injury, could be in line to end the campaign with another Hampden appearance.
Argentine full back Alex Bernabei is another who may see game time in the next few weeks should Ange decide to rest Greg Taylor with the last Glasgow Derby of the season and Cup final in mind. Bernabei has shown some promise in his outings up to now, and increased exposure to first-team football will only aide his development as a contender for the left back spot on a permanent basis.
Make or break for Turnbull?
The return of Reo Hatate to the midfield on Sunday further served to increase the competition for places in that area of the park. Tomoki Iwata, Matt O’Riley, Aaron Mooy, and David Turnbull are all vying for a starting slot alongside Reo and captain Callum McGregor.
With 6 games left to play of the season, it will be interesting to see how Ange manages his midfield options. The number of minutes given to certain players could be extremely telling in terms of where their futures lie.
The prospect of giving Callum McGregor a breather before the Cup final is one that Ange may choose to take up, thus opening up an additional midfield berth. Iwata would be the obvious choice to fill McGregor’s #6 role, however, if this happens and David Turnbull continues to remain side lined, it could be an indication that the ex-Motherwell man’s future is not at Celtic Park.
Vata, Summers, Oh
The final games of the season may also allow Ange room to experiment and rotate up front. Rocco Vata has made a positive impression in his last couple of substitute appearances and is someone the Celtic support would love to see more of.
Vata’s direct style and ability to whip in a dangerous cross ball has endeared him to the fans and he already looks to have a good understanding with Oh; Vata came close to assisting Oh against both Killie and Motherwell with dangerous crosses from the right.
Oh, like fellow January signings Kobayashi and Iwata, is another who could use the tail end of this season as a springboard to next season. The South-Korean has already scored 3 times for Celtic, although just the one from open play, and is highly regarded by Ange and national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
More powerful than Kyogo, Oh offers a different dimension to the Celtic attack and having the opportunity to bed him into the team with limited pressure this season, could have benefits for the future.
Yet another young player knocking at the first team door is attacking midfielder Ben Summers. Summers made his debut against Kilmarnock a few weeks ago and while unlikely to forge his way into the starting team this term, is certainly a player who could benefit from more minutes off the bench.
What is clear, is that going into the final games of the season, Ange has the opportunity to freshen the side up, bed players in for next season, and give valuable experience to the next generation of Academy graduates.
While unlikely that Ange will make wholesale changes from week to week as he will want to maintain momentum ahead of the Cup final, the luxury is there to gain long-term benefits from the post-split league games.