During his trophy-laden first spell in charge at Celtic Park, Brendan Rodgers did not lose a single domestic cup tie as he brought home 5 out of 5 Cups before leaving for Leicester City. Today, the Irishman looks to continue his 100% Cup record with a difficult trip to Kilmarnock and their much-maligned plastic pitch.
Rodgers had an outstanding League Cup record the first time around, winning all 12 League Cup ties, including a 5-0 hammering of Kilmarnock at Celtic Park in August 2017. However, his record at Rugby Park was not quite as impressive, yielding 3 wins and 2 defeats in 5 visits to Ayrshire. The last of which was headed for a goalless draw until Scott Brown popped up with a dramatic last-minute winner to seal a vital three points on the way to 8-in-a-row. Since then, Celtic has won 4 and drawn once in five games at Kilmarnock with Neil Lennon and latterly Ange Postecoglou at the helm.
As James McKenzie highlighted earlier in the week, Brendan Rodgers’ side struggled against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park. However, while James puts this down to the Ayrshire men raising their game against Celtic, I would suggest this was more to do with Steve Clarke’s ability to organise his team defensively and stifle Celtic’s attacking play; something that, worryingly, Rodgers was not able to fully combat.
Fortunately for Brendan Rodgers, Steve Clarke has moved on to the Scotland hot seat with his void in the Kilmarnock dugout now filled by Derek McInnes. If Rodgers struggled against Clarke, then he positively thrived against McInnes and can boast a 92% win rate against the current Kilmarnock manager. A continuation of that positive record and Rodgers’ 100% win rate in domestic Cup competitions, therefore, looks like a likely outcome today.
Killie still a threat
Having said that, Kilmarnock has started the season in good form. An opening-day win at home against Rangers was followed by a solid if unspectacular 0-0 draw at Tynecsastle last weekend. Both results suggest that McInnes has taken measures to shore up what was the second most porous defence in the Cinch Premiership last season.
Ex-Celts Robbie Deas and Stuart Findlay, who scored a late winner against Celtic back in September 2018 for Killie at Rugby Park, have been tasked with plugging the defensive holes. Going forward, Kilmarnock will look to the talents of Danny Armstrong on the right wing as their main creative outlet. The 25-year-old ended last season with 12 goals and 10 assists in 47 appearances, giving him a goal contribution of 0.55 per 90. With Greg Taylor looking suspect in the early games for Celtic, I would expect the Armstrong v Taylor match-up to be worth watching.
Historically, Brendan Rodgers has used the early cup games to experiment slightly with the squad at his disposal and give minutes to some youth and fringe players. The likes of Calvin Miller, Eoghan O’Connell, and Mikey Johnston have benefited from this approach in the past.
However, with Celtic not quite hitting the expected performance highs in the opening two games of the season and with injuries already playing a part in team selection, it is likely that Rodgers will stick with as settled a team as possible for today’s game. The continued ability to use five substitutes this season may also play on Rodgers thinking, with the manager tempted to start with a full-strength side and ring the changes once/if the game is put to bed.
This thinking is reflected in James McKenzie’s predicted XI with new signing Gustaf Lagerbielke replacing the injured Cameron Carter-Vickers being his only change from the team that started at Pittodrie last Sunday.
However, after impressive cameos against Aberdeen, the likes of Odin Holm and Yang may have done enough to impress the manager and push for a starting role in today’s cup tie at the expense of David Turnbull – whom Laura Bradburn makes a strong case should remain in the team – and Liel Abada.
The important thing, as always, is to come through the tie unscathed injury-wise and with our name in the hat for the next round as we begin the defence of trophy number one of our Treble.