After 37 rounds we’ve made it to the final set of fixtures of the league season where, for the 17th time since the year 2000, Celtic will lift the Scottish Premiership title. Barry Robson’s Aberdeen, who have enjoyed a resurgence in form under the former Celtic midfielder, are today’s visitors in what should be another thoroughly enjoyable Trophy Day in Paradise.
A stunning run of 27 games without a defeat from October to May, in which Celtic dropped only four points, was instrumental as Ange Postecoglou’s Bhoys cantered to a second straight title. On two occasions during that lengthy unbeaten streak, Celtic won 12 games on the bounce as they continued their ruthless and relentless pursuit of the title.
Ruthless and relentless Celtic
The championship was unofficially confirmed following the 3-2 defeat of Rangers in the third Glasgow derby of the league season in April before being officially wrapped up at Tynecastle a couple of weeks later.
Celtic’s success on the pitch this season has been matched off the pitch with numerous manager and player of the month accolades being handed out. Ange Postecoglou was voted as Manager of Year, with Kyogo picking up the Premiership Player of the Year gong, such was Celtic’s dominance across the board.
With the hard work done to secure the title, Celtic’s form has dipped in the games since the title was confirmed. Ange has rotated the squad and given minutes to fringe players such as Kobayashi, Haksabanovic, and Oh amongst others as preparations begin for next season.
Before that, of course, is the small matter of Aberdeen today and the Scottish Cup final next weekend against Inverness Caledonian Thistle where a domestic treble is on the line. Having chosen to rotate in recent weeks, the presumption is that Ange will return to a full-strength starting line-up today, using the fixture as a dress rehearsal for the Cup final.
Cup final dress rehearsal
Joe Hart should return in goals after sitting out Wednesday’s trip to Easter Road. The experienced Englishman watched on from the bench as Scott Bain struggled to recover from a howler that gifted Hibs their third goal. Up to that point, Bain had pulled off a couple of important saves and looked to be in good form, however, his confidence was clearly affected by the error.
Across the backline, there is the possibility that Alistair Johnston may return from injury to take part in today’s game. The combative Canadian has already established himself as an integral part of the defence since his January arrival and his absence has been felt over the past few weeks. If deemed fit enough to start, it would be a huge boost ahead of the final to see Johnston get at least an hour under his belt.
Greg Taylor should also return in place of Alex Bernabei on the other side of the defence. Bernabei has come in for sustained criticism for his poor defensive performances in his most recent outings and has done little to encourage confidence that he is a long-term option as a left-back. The young Argentine is clearly more of an offensive player and better suited to a more advanced role, whereas Taylor perfectly fits the inverted full-back role.
Rounding off the defence, Carl Starfelt and Yuki Kobayashi are expected to start together in another attempt to build their partnership before the final. Kobayashi has struggled to adapt to the physical challenge of the Scottish game so far and needs as much game time as possible if he is to improve this side of his game and force his way into the team on a regular basis.
The midfield trio should comprise Callum McGregor, Reo Hatate, and Matt O’Riley. While neither McGregor nor Hatate has covered themselves in glory in the last couple of games, this is Celtic’s strongest midfield at the current time and again, looking to the final, need at least an hour together today to help reconnect their individual games. The option to bring in Iwata and even David Turnbull from the bench should also provide the motivation needed to ensure their performance levels are at a standard that guarantees a start next weekend.
Kyogo out to bag top-scorer gong
Kyogo is gunning for goals as he bids to end the season as the league’s top scorer. The Japanese forward has hit the back of the net 25 times in the league, one more than Lawrence Shankland and the red-hot Kevin van Veen.
With Daizen Maeda suspended, Kyogo is likely to be flanked by Abada and Jota on the wings. Maeda’s suspension has opened the door for Abada who must know that his Cup final place hinges on a strong performance today. As for Jota, the superstar from Portugal and scorer of the Goal of the Season is the one man capable of unlocking the tightest of defences and is key to Celtic’s attacking threat.
The Hoops will aim to end the season in style with a confident attack-minded victory on Trophy Day in Paradise. We hope you enjoy the occasion.