With the dreaded international break finally over and done with, as our squad of international stars are heading back to Govan, we look ahead to Saturday and put ourselves in Steven Gerrard’s shoes, debating the selection decisions he’ll be making over the next few days.
Gone are the days (thankfully) where we’re sitting wondering who is the “least terrible” option for any position, with strength in every area of the park there’ll be contrasting yet valid opinions and cases to be made for just about every member of our first team squad to be involved at the weekend…
Starting with the number one, it’s probably a fairly safe bet to say that if fit, McGregor should be given the nod. Whilst McLaughlin has shown himself to be the able deputy that we’ll likely need with Greegsy turning 39 in January, McGregor was born for the Old Firm and always saves that bit extra for Celtic (as well as the odd Ryan Christie penalty from time to time).
Turning our attention to the back four now, although given the way Borna and particularly Tav has been playing lately, it’s a back two really. The aforementioned are effectively bankers to start, along with Goldson, who has looked a lot more assured this season as well.
That leaves that left centre back position very much up for grabs, with Helander and Balogun both staking a claim. You’d have to think that if he’s fit, big Phil would be given the nod? When we think back to last season (if we must), Helander limping off in that cup final in late November could be seen as a turning point, despite the short-lived euphoria of the victory on 29th (December). More recently his performance against Gala and overall sense of positional awareness has been outstanding and he seems to have formed a really solid partnership with Goldson. Of course, Balogun has barely put a foot wrong since his low-key arrival in August either. His debut against Aberdeen particularly stands out and were it not for the injury in the warm up against Dundee United, he’d have kept his place over Helander. Perhaps he’ll go with a fully fit Balogun over an 80% Helander?
Centre midfield is where it starts to get a bit more interesting, we’re looking at Kamara, Jack, Davis and Zungu – 4 players and probably 2 slots. We know that Kamara has come in for a lot of praise this week, as is often the case off the back of an international week for Glen. The slightly concerning thing is that 3 of the aforementioned 4 have been heavily involved internationally, albeit with Davis getting a well-deserved rest (coming on as an 85th minute sub) on Wednesday night, following his record breaking 119th and 120th caps for Northern Ireland last week. Of the 3, Davis is arguably the most consistent, and it would be difficult to argue against him being the most on form too. Although not inconceivable, and Stevie COULD spin a big shock and start him, one would think it unlikely for Zungu to be thrown straight in at the deep end, having barely even got to know the rest of the boys yet. So likely Kamara or Jack to start alongside Davis? Against Celtic, probably Jack?
Presuming we’re playing with the 2 wide men and Scotty Arfield just off the striker, that leaves Kent on the left (and just about everywhere else on the pitch, such is his tenacity this season) and 2 spaces left to fill – right attacking midfield and centre forward.
It would seem that the default selection would be Hagi and Morelos, but it’s worth looking at who else is knocking on the door. We’re unsure how close to a return Kemar Roofe is, he was just starting to get going with his Ibrox career before he came off against Dundee United, whilst he’s arguably a better option than Hagi or Morelos in either position, throwing him in on Saturday after a month out might not be the best idea. Traditionally, the way to beat Celtic is with pace, and lots of it – so Jones and Barker spring to mind.
Brandon looked sharp during his cameo against Ross County and will be on a high having bagged himself a very good individual goal to celebrate his 24th birthday. JJ on the other hand, played the full 90 minutes for Northern Ireland on Sunday and his pace and new-found confidence definitely gives us yet another option off the bench.
It’s likely though that Hagi will start the game and whilst he doesn’t offer that blistering pace of Jones or Barker, his quick feet, touch and ability to unlock a defence, as exemplified for THAT Arfield goal a few weeks ago, could be critical in a match where we’re unlikely to be creating the usual barrel load of chances in the final third.
This brings us nicely on to the front men, as mentioned, Arfield in that number 10 role is an obvious choice, fair play to him, kept out of the team by the equally impressive Joe Aribo, Scotty has been patient, waited for his opportunity and boy has he taken it…and then some. It’s difficult to imagine Aribo coming straight back in and replacing him, then again, lest we forget how good Aribo looked in pre-season?! Having them both fit and firing at the same time would be quite something, they’ve both played in the attacking right position before too, so it’s not inconceivable to think of them playing together (eventually), along with Kent, regardless of who’s where – it would literally be quality left, right and centre!!
Finally, though, who’s playing up front? We’ve got Roofe, Itten, Defoe and Morelos to choose from. As mentioned, we’re not sure where Roofe, or indeed Itten are in terms of fitness. Either way they’re both surely a little short of match sharpness in any case. When these two signed, a little over a week into the new season, if we’d have said that it’d be Roofe and Itten up front against Celtic in October, nobody would’ve argued…..however despite them both getting off the mark and showing at least promising glimpses of what they can do, they’ll both likely be used off the bench if needed this weekend. Having played nearly 45 minutes for Colombia midweek, Morelos faces a race against time to get himself back and ready for Saturday lunchtime. He’s been the first-choice striker, for more or less the whole season now and whilst he’s not looked anything like the Alfredo we all knew and once loved, with any transfer speculation now at least temporarily halted, he’s possibly still our most viable striking option at the moment?
The other option however, is that of a certain Jermain Defoe. An option that has barely been utilised at all this season, but that could just work for us. Defoe, albeit 38, will have been in training for the last few weeks, he’s fully fit and is undoubtedly one of the most predatory finishers the game, certainly England has ever produced. Of course, he isn’t as “match fit” as Morelos, but Alfredo hasn’t exactly been clinical in front of goal this season or any season against Celtic, would a fresher, more level-headed Defoe be a worse option? Temperament, as we know counts double in an Old Firm game and maybe Jermain with his years of experience, professionalism and calming influence might just be the right man to lead the line on Saturday?
Possible line up:
McGregor, Tavernier, Barisic, Goldson, Helander, Davis, Jack, Hagi, Kent, Arfield, Defoe.
Bring it on!