How Celtic can overcome St. Johnstone

St. Johnstone are the visitors to Celtic Park this afternoon as the home side look to banish the memory of last weekend’s disappointing Cup defeat at the hands of Kilmarnock.

Going into today’s game, manager Brendan Rodgers does not have his problems to seek with Maik Nawrocki adding to an already extensive defensive injury list.  The Polish centre-back joins Cameron Carter-Vickers, Stephen Welsh, and Yuki Kobayashi on the treatment table.

Alongside the defensive injury ‘crisis’, Rodgers also has to find a solution to the sub-par performances of Greg Taylor and Callum McGregor, two of Ange Postecoglou’s most consistent performers, if Celtic are to make a swift recovery from the Kilmarnock reverse.

James McKenzie has highlighted on that today’s game may provide Brendan Rodgers with an opportunity to experiment with team selection, thus presenting some fringe players with an unexpected chance to shine.

Defensive headache

With Nawrocki, Carter-Vickers, Welsh, and Kobayashi all injured, new signing Gusfaf Lagerbielke is Celtic only recognisable fit first-team centre-back.  Rodgers has made clear his desire to bring in at least one other centre-back before the transfer window closes.  However, with no new arrivals through the door in time for today’s game Lagerbielke’s defensive partner is likely to be either Liam Scales or Tomoki Iwata.

Both Scales and Iwata have played as centre-backs before, however, it is neither player’s natural position.  Scales is more of a left back while Iwata plays his best football in the midfield.  Looking at today’s game in isolation, Scales would appear to be the best option as he would provide the balance of being a naturally left-footed option at the heart of the defence.

Playing Scales from the start could also help the underperforming Taylor by offering natural defensive cover on the left-hand side of the defence.  His inclusion would also be beneficial if Alex Bernabei is given a starting berth today, as James suggests may happen.

The attack-minded Argentine has been waiting patiently on the sidelines for an opportunity to grab a first-team position.  With Greg Taylor out of sorts so far this season, a home game against the league’s bottom side may be that chance he has been waiting for.

Winning the midfield

A large part of Celtic’s failure against Kilmarnock was the midfield’s inability to gain a stranglehold on the game.  Captain Callum McGregor is normally extremely reliable in dictating the tempo of games and having the ability to grab a game by the scruff of the neck when needed.  However, so far this season, like with Taylor, the skipper has not yet looked at his best.

While some sections of the support have called for McGregor to be dropped, his experience is exactly what is needed at this moment, especially in the absence of Carter-Vickers.

St. Johnstone are likely to sit deep today which should allow McGregor more time on the ball to orchestrate the game from the middle of the park.  A strong performance is required from McGregor today ahead of the Glasgow Derby.

Odin Holm should continue alongside McGregor in Celtic’s bid to win the midfield today.  The Norwegian has made an impressive start to life at Celtic and his ball-winning and ball-progression abilities could free up McGregor in a slightly more offensive role.

Route to goal

Against Kilmarnock, Celtic offered very little in the way of a consistent attacking threat with chances few and far between.

While a case can be made that the players are still adapting to a new system under Brendan Rodgers, the quality of the attacking players at Celtic’s disposal should be able to create better chances than we did at Rugby Park.

Both Maeda and Abada were largely ineffective on the wings and Kyogo was often found dropping deep to link the play with no one moving into the space he had left behind.  It was not until Yang’s introduction on 65 minutes that Celtic had a player willing to run at the Kilmarnock full-backs and take a direct approach.

The wider playing surface at Celtic Park should benefit the home side today with more space to attack the St. Johnstone defence.  Given the positive impression that Yang has made in his recent substitute appearances, he could be one ‘curve ball’ that Rodgers throws at the Saints today.

As always, you can join ACSOM’s matchdays coverage 30 minutes before kick-off as we look ahead to the game and again at both half-time and full-time as we dissect the key talking points of the match.

Kevin McCluskie

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