Cup Final Preview with A Celtic State of Mind – The Hoops are on course for 10-in-a-row

ALAN MORRISON:

Celtic look to win four consecutive Scottish League Cups for the second time in history. 1968/69 saw the Hoops thrash Hibernian 6-2. Stein’s side went on to win five-in-a-row, which is the record. If Celtic triumph, it will be 10 Scottish trophies in-a-row.

Opponents The Rangers have thrown everything at stopping that. A marque name manager and a never-ending flow of new players into the largest first-team squad in Scotland. The equally never-ending flow of “going concern” warnings show this strategy is high risk. But there are some dividends from a hugely successful Europa League campaign and being only two points behind the champions. A second major cup final is also demonstrative of on-field progress. King seems to be nearing his stated goal of “sold second”.

The SPFL statistics highlight this further. Celtic have launched 274 shots at goal versus The Rangers’ 251. But the Ibrox outfit are more accurate – 44% hit the target compared to 38% by the champions. Lennon’s shoot on sight policy. The challengers convert 17% of their shots and for the Hoops this is 16% so not much in it overall.

The Rangers only allow 10% of all shots to be goals highlighting the difference McGregor makes for them. For Celtic it is 13%.

Both sides hog the ball with the Hoops averaging 64% and the Light Blues 62%.

In the league meeting at Ibrox, Lennon set out to disrupt that pattern by focussing on efforts without the ball. The infamous Levein kick-off and high press set the tone. A home side packed with central midfielders were going to be harassed and pressed.

Celtic made the game a formless mess and were happy with 39% possession. With this they created the better chances and won the game comfortably. The Rangers struggled to create and gave the ball away 127 times.

Whether Lennon repeats that approach or goes more on the front foot in a possession sense will be fascinating. It may in part be swayed by who is fit and to what extent. A characteristically high number of injuries to key players is easing, but it is a stretch to put in 3 or 4 players who have recently been out all at the same time. If Lennon has to compromise on starting first-choice players, he may be more pragmatic.

Celtic have a range of goal threats whilst the Ibrox club rely heavily on Morelos or Defoe. Restricting possession to the front man will be key for Celtic. Davis is still their most influential player in terms of breaking lines. But Celtic are strong centrally where Brown, McGregor, Ntcham, Rogic and Christie are all fit and available.

Celtic have the stronger players and squad, and after slipping back in the league, The Rangers may feel under pressure. This isn’t something Gerrard seems to handle well.

I’ll go for a 2-0 Hoops win with Forrest to enhance further his big game reputation with a goal.

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MARTIN DONALDSON:

Celtic players, fans and officials will roll up to Hampden for their 20th consecutive visit to the national stadium as neutrals in just over three seasons. As far as levels of consistency go, there can be no comparison in the Scottish game. In each visit, Celtic have overcome challenges and found new ways in delivering a formula for success.

The 2019 League Cup final may well be the biggest challenge during our extended period of dominance. The consistency shown by both finalists so far this season can’t be overlooked and anything can happen in a one-off match.

In recent weeks Celtic have been forced into shuffling the team in order to cope with injuries, however the hunger and desire shown by the squad has only galvanised further the traditional will to win.

Neil Lennon will keep everyone guessing on the starting 11 until the last minute, but no matter who takes the field for the Hoops, our experience and ability to change the team should see another night of celebration in the east end of the city.

Celtic to win 2-1 with McGregor to score.

ANDREW RAFFERTY:

Three years of comprehensive domestic dominance in Scottish football and the will within the Celtic team to win has not diminished. You only need to look at the determination and grit shown to find late winners in matches against Lazio (x2) and Hamilton recently to see that.

The opposition at Hampden, however, are starved of success and are no less hungry to finally land a piece of major silverware.

Both teams can boast a strong run of form in the league, cup and Europe. And both teams can rightly feel confident ahead of this first cup final of the 2019/20 season.

The challenge from the Ibrox-based outfit is a strong one this season, which will make a victory for the good guys all the sweeter. To do that, Celtic will need to be disciplined and organized from back to front. We will need to match the opposition for energy and endeavour across the pitch and display creativity and ingenuity in the final third. The good thing is that we have shown all of this and more over the season so far.

We have a group of players who are clearly enjoying their football, under the guidance of a manager who has embraced this second spell in the hot seat with real panache. An on-form and, relatively, full-strength Celtic side should dispose of The Rangers and set the Gerrard revolution back.

2-0 Celtic with goals from Christie and Eddy.

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