Celtic find themselves in a rare situation where a victory against Livingston at Parkhead isn’t a foregone conclusion. Back-to-back defeats in the league for the first time in ten years has seen Celtic’s gap at the top of the table completely swept aside, and a title race is well and truly on now.
With a must-win derby looming on the 30th, every game in the lead up to the fixture needs to see the Hoops take maximum points as well as recording comprehensive victories in an attempt to build momentum in a squad that seems bereft of confidence.
The defeat against Hearts was a lifeless and lacklustre performance that resulted in chants of “sack the board” ringing around the stadium in the final 15 minutes.
The Return of Maeda
The lack of urgency when the team has been staring in the eyes of defeat has been baffling for a team like Celtic where the expectation is on the players to win convincingly week in week out, and Brendan Rodgers must see a reaction from his players.
Celtic will be boosted by the return of Daizen Maeda, with the Japanese winger expected to return to the starting XI for this afternoon’s encounter. Mikey Johnston’s substitution against the Jambos was greeted with cheers from the Celtic Park faithful, which is never a good sign, and the return of Maeda will provide the pace and energy that Celtic have been severely lacking in recent games where the attacking play has been incredibly slow.
Another bonus that comes with the return of the pacey forward is the connection and understanding that he has with the misfiring Kyogo Furuhashi. Celtic desperately need last season’s player of the year back at his best, with the striker having just one goal in his last 12 appearances in all competitions this time round. Having Maeda back in the team should see more involvement for Furuhashi in the game.
Brendan Rodgers only singled three players out for pass marks against the Jambos, those three players being Callum McGregor, Liam Scales, and the in-demand Matt O’Riley. Despite the pass marks afforded to them by the manager, Celtic need to see more influence on the game from the Dane and getting back in amongst the goal contributions will be key to having him at his best heading into the derby match.
This weekend’s opponents, Livingston, have been on a downward spiral over the last few weeks. David Martindale’s side haven’t seen victory in their last nine league games, scoring just two goals during that spell.
Martindale sets up his side to frustrate Celtic and they will most likely be incredibly compact and organised to deal with wave after wave of Celtic attack. Celtic cannot allow them to get settled in the game, with a fast start to the game being key to breaking up any sort of rhythm for the Lions.
The visit of off-form Livingston has come at a good time for a Celtic side, who need to build momentum for the Rangers game at Celtic Park on 30th December.
JAMES MCKENZIE // Follow James HERE