A chance for fringe players but Commons won’t be one of them

screen-shot-2016-12-16-at-172908Since Celtic last played Partick Thistle, they have seen off Hamilton Academical and Dundee at Celtic Park as well as the Jags themselves on a 4-1 victory at Firhill. Tonight that unbeaten could continue, but with Brendan Rodgers hinting about personnel changes for tonight’s visit by Thistle, are Celtic jeopardising their winning streak?

Brendan Rodgers has a huge squad and not everyone has seen the light of day since he came on board. Aside from those sent out on loan he still has many fringe players who need game time as proper assessment.

It will give Brendan a chance to run the rule over some of the players without sufficient game time. In recent weeks we’ve seen one or two ease their way into the squad such as Gary Mackay-Steven, Emilio Izaguirre and Patrick Roberts.

There have been cameo appearances from Cristian Gamboa and Ryan Christie and some becoming forgotten figures such as Kolo Toure, Dedryck Boyata, Nadir Ciftci and of course Efe Ambrose. Deeper down the ranks though we haven’t seen much of Eoghan O’Connell, Jamie McCart, Anthon Ralston, Liam Henderson, Kristofer Ajer or Jack Aitchison.

Tonight some of these guys might get a nod, but I don’t see Brendan making too many changes. As comfortable as Celtic are right now, you don’t want to appear to be cocky.

A win tonight would put Celtic 14 points in the clear and still with a game at hand over second place. The long-term aim is an unbeaten run, even if it isn’t being discussed openly.

It currently sits at all 20 domestic games unbeaten, 19 of which were wins with the last 14 being straight wins. To ensure that continues, players will be champing at the bit to be part of it and keep this momentum.

One player who isn’t part of things right nowh though is Kris Commons. He has gone out on loan to Hibernian until mid-January.

The happy recipient is of course the man who brought him to Celtic in the first place. Neil Lennon will utilise the services of Commons to see Hibs through a tough spell with personnel in the Scottish Championship battle.

The Leith club are neck-a-neck with Dundee United right now, but Commons has answered the call by his former manager. Brendan Rodgers has stated that it is good for both parties, but with Commons out of contract in the summer and having never kicked a ball under Rodgers he is very unlikely to be at Celtic beyond this season.

For a player with such great talent, he has managed to find himself out of the picture with all three Celtic managers he has played under. Despite making a huge impact in January 2010 under Lennon, Commons would lose his place in the first team the following season amid rumours and speculation of a fall out, ignoring any other facts in the process.

He would later return to form and the first team which was good news for the club and the fans. Commons was a key player and had been missed by the fans.

Next came the Ronny Deila era and it wasn’t too long before he fell out of favour with the Norwegian. Deila was becoming well-known for fitness and it was almost certainly the reason behind his decision to leave Commons out of his team selections.

Although a gifted player, Commons isn’t the fastest or leanest. When a manager is focussed on certain attributes that you are lacking then they are going against their own plans to make an exception for you.

Even although Lennon and Deila would make that exception, Rodgers doesn’t appear to be of the same mind. You have to be consistent with your decisions and this loan spell may offer Kris Commons a lifeline to see out the rest of the season with Celtic, but after that I don’t see a way back for the 33-year-old.

There is no question of his affinity for the club and the admiration the fans have for him. If he is not fitting the mould of the Brendan Rodgers type player he is almost certainly a goner this summer.

I hope he does well at Hibs and we do get to see him wear the Hoops again. Tonight though, the opportunities are there for those with a longer future at the club.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Thistle get stung by Celtic

soccer-pa-45Celtic tucked away a 4-1 victory on Friday night at Firhill. Partick Thistle missed opportunities but they didn’t really trouble Celtic enough to alter the destination of the game.

Brendan Rodgers made some personnel changes and the football wasn’t as fluid over the 90 minutes as we’ve seen of late. However, after going out of Europe with a spirited display on Tuesday night you could forgive the squad for displaying some fatigue.

There weren’t too many talking points from this game apart from the goals which were all of good quality. Stuart Armstrong sent home his first goal six minutes from the interval thanks to a great square ball by a hard-working Leigh Griffiths.

Armstrong was front and centre once more in the second half as he received yet another assist from Griffiths in the 49th minute. A free kick from the right hand side of the Thistle box was knocked low into Armstrong who controlled and finished calmly.

Griffiths then turned from provider to opportunist a minute later. It was a reminder of what he is great at when capitalising on hesitant opponents by notching up his first and Celtic’s third, after some quick-wittedness in the danger zone.

Thistle then pulled one back after a solid header from a free-kick beat Craig Gordon. Celtic were sloppy on this occasion but the a Jags weren’t.

The Firhill players then sensed another opportunity and almost did the same again with a near identical free kick and header. Thistle weren’t as fortunate with offside given on this occasion, but if they had been the game may have looked very different from this point on.

With Thistle not giving up, Callum McGregor had come off the bench to secure the win for Celtic. A delightful ball in from cut back on the touch-line by Emilio Izaguirre found McGregor who slotted it ball home from close range.

There has been criticism on Callum McGregor and his finishing. Yet, he’s scored twice in his last two games and as Brendan Rodgers says, he’s always good for a goal.

I think he is a magic wee player who has a role to play. Goals and guile he has in abundance and is a good squad player.

The one key talking point for me in this match was the foul/penalty claim by Ade Azeez. I didn’t see much contact when it happened in real-time and when the replay was shown, I couldn’t see much more either.

Chris Sutton was keen to see the replay and the different camera angles but he along with the rest of the pundits were convinced Gordon had taken Azeez out of the game. Well, I’ve looked at it several times and I still can’t see any contact in or outside the box and I am by no means in denial.

I don’t think any of the replays show contact and for once I’m not hearing too much from the media suggesting that Celtic got away with murder. Despite this not being a polished display, there were some very good performances at Firhill though.

I thought the Partick Thistle keeper Tomas Cerny was great to stop Leigh Griffiths from helping himself to more goals. In turn, Leigh Griffiths was instrumental in practically every forward move.

He demonstrated his full skill set in this match. His footwork is unbelievable at times and has proven time and time again that he can provide assists as well as goals.

That was certainly on display at Firhill. He did so much in this game which at times even includes tracking back which isn’t something you get from a player like him very often.

And….that’s the difference between Leigh and Moussa Demeble. The French forward has been fantastic for Celtic but there are significant differences between himself and his Scottish counterpart.

They both offer something different to Brendan Rodgers and equally as effective. That is the kind of headache you want as a manager but it remains to be seen if he will ever play them together.

Out on the wings, it was a pretty quiet night for Celtic. Patrick Roberts looked decent early on but like his fellow winger, Gary Mackay-Steven over on the left, they were both having a largely unproductive match.

The same could be said for Tom Rogic but to be fair, I felt the majority of the play was coming from Cristian Gamboa and Emilio Izaguirre. Some Celtic fans have been quick to judge Gamboa but he came onto a game at Firhill.

It should be remembered that he has barely kicked a ball for Celtic this season and needs time to establish himself before we sound the horn of disapproval. On the other hand, I though Izzy was great down the left and provided a lot of support to the front men.

Armstrong was good throughout as was captain Scott Brown who continues to have a fantastic season. The Celtic defence was steady enough to see off Thistle but in terms of future proofing, Brendan Rodgers will need to establish interchangeable players for central defence.

Whilst Mikael Lustig can play in there, I still think he is better at right back or in a back three. Erik Sviatchenko is a key figure in this squad and will play there week-in, week-out but I am sure he would like to know who his partners are going to be in the long-term.

Jozo Simunovic is being used sparingly for fitness reasons which is fine but I’d like to think we can bring in one more suitable defender to do the same job. Kolo Toure brought steadiness and experience at the beginning of the season but even he is looking short of confidence right now and almost certainly won’t be here next season.

As for Dedryck Boyata, I am not sure what will happen with him. I’ve never really been convinced by him and I’m not sure if Brendan Rodgers is either.

Efe Ambrose has become a spectator and his time at the club will end in the summer if not before. So unless Eoghan O’Connell is deemed to be an option in the long-term, central defence needs another player.

However, a good win for Celtic and good to see some players getting a run out. I’m sure as the season progresses and January looms, availability for places will grow with injuries, suspensions and exits.

Eleven points clear at the top of the league, two games at hand and the rest of the Scottish Premiership in action today. The question remains, will Celtic go the distance unbeaten?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

A busy transfer window, not a miserly transfer window

I’m not going to beat about the bush. This Bhoy is satisfied with the transfer activity carried out by Celtic this summer.

Many of you will no doubt disagree with me on that,  judging by some of the reaction I’ve read elsewhere on the web. The lack of an apparent marquee signing or a creative midfielder appear to be the main reasons.

With a squad the size Brendan Rodgers has, there are still plenty of opportunities for existing players to prove themselves under his guidance. The manager has already made a huge difference upon his arrival.

Celtic have offloaded nine players with a further ten out on loan. At the same time, they have drafted in six players and renewed the contracts of two.

If that isn’t a busy window, then I don’t know what is. Come the January transfer window, I would expect to see further moves in and out of Celtic Park as well.

Celtic are already showing signs of great improvement on the field of play and that is without a fully fit squad. Now with the transfer window shut, we know who will be available to Brendan Rodgers until the end of the year at least.

The addition and impact of Scott Sinclair and Kolo Toure has been very influential and I would argue that they have marquee signings for Rodgers. New contracts for Tom Rogic and James Forrest has breathed new life into their careers at the club and on the field of play.

Moussa Dembele continues to settle in and has also made a steady impact. Cristian Gamboa’s was an unexpected purchase but with Saidy Janko now out on loan, it appears this was an area Brendan Rodgers was not happy with.

The departure of Stefan Johansen and the loaning of Scott Allan has helped the midfield in that there will be more opportunities for others. Ryan Christie, Liam Henderson and Kristoffer Ajer will be seeking to displace Scott Brown, Nir Bitton, Callum McGregor, and Tom Rogic.

There is also Stuart Armstrong and Kris Commons to consider as well. With the amount of games Celtic are set to play, I expect many will get an opportunity even if they have to be patient.

At the back, it would have been good to see the back of Efe Ambrose but he has stood firm and remains. I can’t see him getting in the team with Kolo Toure and Erik Sviatchenko as key players.

Also fighting for a place will be Dedryck Boyata and Jozo Simunovic. The jury is still out on Boyata for me but the failed transfer of Simunovic to Torino is a positive.

Having been hampered by injury, the Croatian defender has rarely had time to make a go of things and I was stunned Celtic were trying to move him on. I think this might be a twist of fate for Celtic as he will push Toure and Sviatchenko all the way.

Mikael Lustig has the benefit of being able to play right back or centre half so he is one of our more fortunate defenders. Kieran Tierney doesn’t look as comfortable in a back three as Lustig but will be a key player on the left side of defence regardless.

Sparring for that role will be Emilio Izaguirre though he is more like Gamboa as a wing back than a defender. The one player I was sad to see sign on elsewhere was Charlie Mulgrew.

Although he was still training at the club, he hasn’t been shy of injuries in recent times. Mulgrew’s versatility is one of his greatest assets which would have been great to have had in the squad.

However, if he did receive reduced terms as reported, I cannot fault the club. Given his absences in the past two seasons and his desire to secure one last big contract I can only wish him all the best at Blackburn.

On the wings we have Scott Sinclair, James Forrest, Patrick Roberts and Gary Mackay-Steven. Mackay-Steven will struggle to get into the team now, especially when Roberts returns.

Up front, Leigh Griffiths will duel with Dembele so it will be interesting to see how Nadir Ciftci handles being left in the dark. He will either emerge better or go under and eventually move on – it is up to him.

Last but not least is the number one slot. Craig Gordon has been first choice for two seasons but with the arrival of Dorus de Vries, his position is in jeopardy.

De Vries played under Brendan Rodgers previously and seems he will be given a chance to push Gordon all the way. Meantime, Logan Bailly and Leonardo Fasan have fallen further down the pecking order.

So it is an exciting time. The squad has seen arrivals and departures and judging by what I have seen under Brendan Rodgers will continue to get better.

Poor transfer window? I don’t think so.

Some further deals may have happened but for the business that has been done, I am happy. There is so much to look forward to right now and even more to look forward to in the future.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Brendan’s vision coming to fruition

When a club manager has a vision of how they want to see their team to play, the priority is to get the team playing that way. For Brendan Rodgers, he obviously has a vision and whilst trying to bring that to the field of play, he has had to do so whilst assessing the squad he inherited.

Many have moved on, and just last week the latest person to leave was Stefan Johansen. His departure was long rumoured and leaves the door open for other players currently at the club to step up or someone new.

For Rodgers to realise his vision though, he needs to see evidence from his current crop or seek the answer from a new player. The size of the squad still requires trimming down and it is being whittled down step by step.

The transfer window is open until the end of August. Today it has been reported that Cristian Gamboa is undergoing a medical with Celtic and his signature imminent.

A right back didn’t appear to be a priority in my eyes but it is obvious that it is for Brendan Rodgers. The manager ejected prospect Darnell Fisher leaving him with the returning Saidy Janko and Mikael Lustig for that position.

The sign is that he desires more experience in this position and someone with the ability to play as a wing back as well. Lustig may not be what he is looking for in that role and with Janko still finding his way in a Celtic jersey it appears Gamboa is the player for him.

Rodgers has also brought in 35 year old Dorus de Vries as another goalkeeping option. He will provided competition for 33 year old Craig Gordon if not shift him from the number one slot permanently.

That leaves question marks over Logan Bailly and Leonardo Fasan. Bailly was brought in as backup by Ronny Deila and has rarely featured so he could be moved on given that he too is in the 30+ category and vying for one position.

As for Fasan, well he may still have a chance and certainly has age on his side. Right now Rodgers has signalled his intent that the goalkeeping position in his view is not strong enough.

It is an exciting time for Celtic supoorters with all these changes. Rodgers and his management team have assessed the squad over the summer and things are progressing.

As I’ve said before, many have moved on and more will follow. If not in this transfer window, then certainly the next one.

Boerrigter, Kazim-Richards, Stokes, Cole, Fisher, Mulgrew, Findlay and Scepovic are all off the books now. Nine more are out on loan including Scott Allan.

With two days left in the transfer window and we are likely to see activity right up until the death. Ajer, Toure, Sinclair, Dembele and de Vries in so far. Gamboa and one more possibly as well as new deals for Tom Rogic and James Forrest.

On the shaky peg are Kris Commons, Efe Ambrose, Gary Mackay-Steven and at least one goalkeeper. All this, top of the Premiership with a game at hand and the Chanpions League to look forward to.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Rodgers and Sinclair reuinted for season opener at Tynecastle

Celtic have today confirmed Scott Sinclair as Brendan Rodgers’ third signing. The 27-year-old winger has worked with the Celtic manager in the past and there appears to have been some determination to obtain the services of the English winger.

From the little bit of research I have done on Sinclair, he comes with a lot of experience south of the border. That has been based mainly on playing for a long list of clubs, though only for short spells.

He began his career at Bristol Rovers where he came to the attention of Chelsea as a young boy. Having moved to Chelsea, it was there that Rodgers and Sinclair came together for the first time.

Rodgers was the head youth coach at the time and the two worked together for a number of years. Eventually Rodgers would move into first team management at Watford whilst for Sinclair half a dozen loan spells would begin.

Both mentor and pupil would be reunited once more at Swansea City in 2010 where they would enjoy very positives times in their careers. Because of the success enjoyed during their two seasons together, they would both move on.

Brendan went to Liverpool and Scott went to Manchester City. We all know about Brendan’s Liverpool tenure but for Scott his rare appearances in a Manchester City jersey led to further loan spells before a permanent move to Aston Villa.

Many have pointed out that Villa wasn’t a great success for Sinclair. Then gain, that could be said for Villa has a whole because after flirting with relegation for a long time, they now find themselves in the Championship.

Right now, I am keen to see Sinclair in the Hoops. Brendan has pursued him and looks to be one of his players.

That means he knows what he will get from him and when asked to do something, knows he will get a positive response. The only thing Sinclair needs to do is do what is asked of him.

We might get to see that today as Celtic take on Hearts at Tynecastle. With Patrick Roberts injured and Gary Mackay-Steven facing a loan spell, Celtic are light on wingers for once.

If Sinclair does play, it might just be as a substitute. Either way we are all looking forward to him help bring success to the club.

To play away from home and at Tynecastle in your first Premiership match is about as tough as it can get. Celtic will need to be at their best as I expect Hearts to have built upon last season.

There a fewer better places to play away in Scotland than Tynecastle in terms of intensity. Welcome to Scottish football, Scott.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Time to be cut-throat with our over-inflated squad

No sooner than he is announced as Celtic’s new manager, Brendan Rodgers is said to be planning a clear out of players. This isn’t much of a surprise but it does seem to be prompt action.

Celtic have a massive team and in the hours following Rodgers signature, I’ve been discussing the current squad in my circle. Downsizing is a must particularly if fresh players are to be introduced but there are some question marks over key players.

Rumours are suggesting that Stefan Šćepović and Carlton Cole have already gone. Emilio Izaguirre was also set to leave but the word on the street is he will be back for pre-season training.

Perhaps the arrival of Rodgers has some players reconsidering their Celtic careers. This is not just limited to Izzy though, there are several players who will be evaluating their positions.

The latest rumour is linking Efe Ambrose with a move to Europa League opponents Fenerbahçe. I mean, if the Turkish club didn’t get a good enough look at his calamitous efforts when playing against him then I would say this is a cruel joke.

However, he does need to go and won’t get any argument from me. Tyler Blackett can also return to Manchester United after a poor loan spell.

In terms of do-they-or-don’t-they get new deals are Charlie Mulgrew, James Forrest and Darnell Fisher. All three are out of contract, though Forrest’s is said to run until mid-season, but whether they have futures at the club will be the first piece of business.

Mulgrew is a valuable utility man and any deal he offered is most likely to be small given his recent absence from the team. Forrest has also been a player absent from the first team but how much of that has been injury based is unclear.

He has had his fair share of them and has hindered his career at the club. Despite that, he has had some fantastic games for the club, we just haven’t seen it for so long and he might become surplus to requirement.s

Fisher, has been on loan at St Johnstone this season but played less than a dozen games. He looked like a decent prospect, despite playing in an oversubscribed playing position.

With Mikael Lustig currently first choice, Saidy Janko second, Fisher is likely to be cut. That would only change if either of the first two were to leave which is doubtful.

In the final year of their contracts are Kris Commons, Stefan Johansen, Tom Rogic, Leonardo Fasan and Eoghan O’Connell. Also on that list are Emilio Izaguirre and Efe Ambrose.

There is opportunity for Celtic to cash in on all or some of these guys. However, one player the club should make a priority to keep is Tom Rogic.

Put simply, he is one of our best players and given the season he has just had, deserves a new contract. Commons’ value will be low given his age but his ability suggests he still has a role to play at the club.

Johansen had a great start to his Celtic career but this season has been poor. There is nothing to suggest he won’t get back to his best and a new contract would depend on that and his desire to stay.

Fasan and O’Connell are squad players who have never made an impact and could will either go out on loan, let their contracts wind down or be sold off. The only other player with a year left to go is Cole but if rumours are accurate, we can confine him to the scrap-heap.

Then there is the matter of Celtic’s players out on loan. Fisher we’ve covered, the Šćepović rumour has yet to be clarified so that leaves some key players to discuss.

After 4 goals in 22 appearances for Celtic, Nadir Çiftçi was shipped out on loan to Eskişehirspor during the January transfer window. He lasted just 34 minutes in his first game before being substituted and was sent of in his second after receiving two yellow cards in the space of a minute.

In 10 appearances he managed 3 goals and now Eskişehirspor have been relegated. Given that their fans set fire to their own stadium following that, I’d say Çiftçi and Eskişehirspor are a good fit for each other.

Before going to Hibs, Liam Henderson was looking like a very decent midfield prospect. However, it is a busy area in terms of personnel and Celtic farmed him out for some first team experience.

He played the end of last season at Rosenborg where he scored 4 goals in 13 games. After returning to Celtic he was then off on a season long loan to Championship club, Hibs.

He’s played a massive 48 games and scored 6 goals. Will he be returning to Celtic this summer and making an impact in the first team?

Well he certainly has the talent but like I say, there is a lot of competition in the team right now. His future may depend on the future of others with expired/expiring contracts.

Another Hibs player with a question mark over his future is Anthony Stokes. I’ve been fairly convinced the club have been trying to move him on but as you might have seen from his performance in the Scottish Cup Final, he still has a lot of worth.

He is still only 27 and you know what, Brendan Rodgers might just fancy him for the left flank. At the moment, it isn’t our strongest position but it is a place Stokes knows inside out.

Is it time for the prodigal son to return? Watch this space.

Other loanees are Stuart Findlay, Calum Waters, and Aidan Nesbitt. These guys could very well be part of the next generation but right now there immediate futures are not a burning issue.

So what about our other team members? Will we see any more movement within the squad?

Well in the goalkeeper department we are reasonably secure for the coming season with Craig Gordon as number one and Logan Bailly as backup. The defence isn’t looking too bad either though that will all depend on who is available.

Erik Sviatchenko looks good and steady at the back. He needs a permanent partner though and my first choice would be Jozo Šimunović.

However, Jozo has had his injuries and the central defensive pairing will depend on his recovery and long-term fitness. If that doesn’t work out then you are looking at Dedryck Boyata.

In all honesty, I haven’t been convinced by the Belgian who was a permanent buy from Manchester City once Jason Denayer returned to them from his loan spell. Boyata hasn’t even come close to looking as good as Denayer so this season is make or break for him.

Our midfield is flooding with personnel right now and to accommodate all of them is a tall order. Captain Scott Brown has had a dodgy season but there is no danger of losing his services though I do think Rodgers should not be afraid to drop him.

Nir Bitton is a fine player when he wants to be, despite his languid demeanour at times. I’d be happy for him to stay on though with a return to form we may find it difficult to prevent a future move.

Gary Mackay-Steven has had some decent games for Celtic but he lacks any sort of consistency. Even at his best, he hasn’t looked as good as James Forrest and with Patrick Roberts currently blowing away almost every other Celtic player right now, Mackay-Steven is on the fringes right now.

One player growing in importance and demonstrating is adaptability is Callum McGregor. Ronny Deila gave him his first outing in the first team and has been a very loyal servant to the now departed Celtic Head Coach.

He can play wide, central or deep and has an eye for goal. His place in this squad is not in jeopardy.

Stuart Armstrong is wasted out in the wide areas. He might have a left foot but he is not a let winger.

For me, he needs to play more of a central role. He isn’t fast but he is strong, has great technique and can pick out a pass.

The two players who will be knocking on the door of the new manager will be Ryan Christie and Scott Allan. Both came in last summer and have played a small amount of matches, though Christie was loaned back to his previous club for half of this season as well has suffering and injury.

They are both highly rated players and could well be the part of the new season under Rodgers. Celtic need to push forward and these guys can be part of it but as I have said before, we have a lot of players in the midfield position and something or someone will have to give.

In the youth front, Anthony Ralston and Joe Thomson are still on the periphery. With so many players ahead of them their time is likely to be a bit further down the line.

Up front is an area where Celtic are lightweight. Leigh Griffiths is our star player right now but he has not backup. Colin Kazim-Richards is a more physical player but he doesn’t’ provide anywhere near the same kind of ability so this is an area where Celtic will have to strengthen, particularly if we are to make inroads in Europe once more.

Jack Aitchison came off the bench to score with his first touch in his first senior appearance for the club in the 7-0 mauling of Motherwell. He also became the youngest ever player to score for Celtic, breaking an age-old record.

You can’t judge the boy on one goal. If he can offer something long-term in attack we will soon find out though.

Rodgers might have to be cut-throat to bring down the squad size in order to make some space for new players. We already have a new player in Kristoffer Ajer joining the ranks as part of a pre-planned deal but there will be further moves and changes in the coming weeks.

Exciting times to be a Celtic supporter.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Who would you choose for Sunday?

We’ve seen a lot of changes to the Celtic side since Ronny Deila came in almost two years ago. Few of these player combinations have had a consistent run for varying reasons bu does Ronny have or know his best eleven?

Players going out on loan from Celtic, players finishing their loan spell at Celtic, loss of form, injury or simply not good enough! It has had a big impact on progress but that’s all part of the game.

Whether you perceive Sunday’s match as old rivals or as new ones, the match is still being hyped up to the effect of the former. Given the opportunity, who would you choose to start on Sunday though?

Do you throw in your experienced players such as Kris Commons? Or do you stick with your on form Patrick Roberts and don’t let the occasion get to you?

It’s a tough one because whilst you can play down the encounter as two different teams from two different leagues, meeting for only the second time, the sports media are all over this like it’s an O** F*** match. The first time Celtic played The Rangers it was a firm 2-0 win at Hampden in the League Cup Semi Final last year.

On that day the line up was: Gordon, Lustig, Izaguirre, van Dijk, Denayer, Brown, Bitton, Commons, Johansen, Stokes and Griffiths. Later in the match we saw Guidetti on for Griffiths, Forrest on for Stokes and Matthews on for Lustig.

Of the 14 Celtic players who took part that day, 5 have now departed (Stokes is on loan but almost certainly gone in the summer). With the exception of Denayer, van Dijk and Stokes Celtic could put out the same team.

This time, Ronny Deila has further options though. In fact he has almost an entirely new team at his disposal.

Although with Celtic by that stage last season, Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven were both cup tied for that semi final. In addition, players such as Charlie Mulgrew, Tom Rogic and Callum McGregor were not available for selection.

Even Kieran Tierney was but a twinkle in Ronny Deila’s eye at that stage. Whereas Efe Ambrose was left on the bench along with current Celtic loanees, Stefan Šćepović and Liam Henderson.

Since then Deila has added Dedryck Boyata, Erik Sviatchenko, Jozo Šimunović, Saidy Janko, Ryan Christie, Scott Allan, Patrick Roberts, Colin Kazim-Richards and Carlton Cole to the ranks. With injuries and lack of game time ruling out many, there are still significantly more options available this time around.

From those thought to be available my personal pick would be: Gordon, Lustig, Tierney, Boyata, Mulgrew, Brown, Bitton, Commons, Armstrong, McGregor and Griffiths. I’d think about bringing on Roberts for Armstrong or McGregor and Rogic for Commons as the game wears on.

If you’re going to play Commons then do so from the start I say. I’m very much in favour of Rogic playing more matches as well, but I think he can pick up a game from any stage unlike Commons who could well be important in this match.

Armstrong would provide some much needed stability in the midfield which is an area we have been weak lately. McGregor would provide a good support to the attack as well and is also a form player.

Roberts would be a great option to bring on to either keep momentum or up the pace entirely. There may also be a place for Kazim-Richards in this tie with his physical presence in mind.

As much as Griffiths has the guile to cause problems, he can be out-muscled if he isn’t on his game. I’m sure this match will be more challenging than last year’s whichever team Ronny decides to put out.

The Ibrox club will be out to prove they can cut it at the ‘top’. Playing the current Scottish Champions and the best team in Scotland is the benchmark for them after all.

Do we have anything to worry about? Well that depends on what you are worried about.

Personally, Celtic should be putting them to rest with relative ease. The Rangers have a point to prove though and if you believe what the Scottish media tell you, this mob will be challenging for the title next season, not just trying to stay up!

We’ve had a continued stream of anti-Celtic stories all week. In contrast I’ve read nothing negative about tomorrow’s underdogs.

Once that whistle blows at 12pm on Sunday, all the negative stories will fade away. Celtic just need to do their talking on the park.

Until tomorrow then.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac