Motherwell v Celtic (SPFL Premiership)
Wednesday, 5th December
Fir Park, Motherwell
Daily life along in its relentless rhythm. Sun up. Sun down. The giant gassy fireball stop for no man, no matter your address or account balance, if you’re ecstatic or gloomy.
10 games to win the league. 10 games to win the Treble Treble. 10 games to prove that Europe can still be great. 10 games to ensure 10 in a row.
Ferdinand the Bull had the right idea. Sit down and smell the flowers, pal. Take a second. Consider where you are, what the bigger picture is, where you are in your story.
1 month. 10 games. 2 down. 8 left.
Brendan Rodgers is bang in the middle of his Celtic’s reign. Brendan Rodgers is staying for ten in a row. Brendan Rodgers is here for five years. He knows what to do at this stage. The wee giant lost weight, fixed his teeth, got a healthy looking tan and made himself feel good when he started to approach his own middle years. Kept it just the right side of classy: no leather jacket, no motorbike, just the occasional open bus rental for a big party.
10 games in the middle of Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic life. 10 games to define the reign. 2 wins, 8 to go.
Norwegians conquered. Again. Aberdeen conquered. Again. The League Cup won. Again. Sun goes up. Sun goes down. On the horizon, there’s Steve Clarke and his annoyingly well organised team. There’s a wounded and criticised Neil Lennon at Easter Road. There is a huge European night at Celtic Park. There is Boxing Day at Pittordrie, opposing players, manager and fans fuelled by the rage over their own shortcomings.
Win them. Win them all. Win them all 1-0, I don’t care. On the 29th December, arrive in Mordor top of the league, still in Europe, Treble Treble on its way. Ready to finish it all off, to put everything in its right place, to throw that ring into Mount Doom. Their tiny hope snuffed out. They’ll never come back from it. What a party it could be.
10 games in a month. 10 wins in a month.
That’s the big picture within the even larger tableau. Life keeps ticking. Sun goes up. Sun goes down. It’s Wednesday night. It’s dark. It’s wet. It’s cold. You’re in fucking Motherwell against a bunch of huge lads in a mood. It’s right here, right now. That tiny piece needed to complete the big picture. Don’t forget where you are, and where you want to go. Get in. 3 points. Get out. Make it 3 down, 7 to go.
10 games. 10 wins. Make it happen, Celtic.
Last Five Meetings:
Did you know?
Motherwell have not beaten Celtic at home since February 2013. James Forrest, Emilio Izzaguirre and Tom Rogic started the game, the only Celtic players in that match-day squad still at the club. Michael Higdon got the winner in a 2-1 win (he then quite randomly went on to play one season with NEC Nijmegen, getting 14 goals in the Eredivise) in what was only Rogic’s 2nd start for Celtic.
This fixture has ROTATION written all over it doesn’t it? A physical and mentally tough game against Aberdeen only three days previously, Kilmarnock, Salzburg and Hibernian coming up fast, players like Brown and Ntcham itching to get back on the pitch. Add to that what is bound to be another physical battle against the Steelmen, and it seems very unlikely that Brendan Rodgers won’t change any outfield players.
The changes are likely to be in the middle of the pitch especially, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Callum McGregor and Tom Rogic both given a rest, Scott Brown and Olivier Ntcham coming in. Ryan Christie still looks fresh and full of energy and while he’ll probably get a break at some point in December his current momentum almost demands that he plays. Could Scott Sinclair be told to put his feet up as well? I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lewis Morgan being asked to challenge Motherwell down their right hand side, trying to exploit any room their back three formation might give him.
There will be calls for Leigh Griffiths to get a start, and while I think there is definitely a role to play for him in this game, it’s a lot more likely to be from 60 minutes onwards, Odsonne Edouard to hold his own physically and soften up the big, ugly Motherwell centre-backs for a late Griffiths cameo.
Stevie, mate. Robbo, pal. Why are you not playing Elliott Frear? He’s dead good and that. What has he done to offend you? Your loss, silver fox. Frear had the highest Expected Assists total (quality of chances set up) per 90 minutes played of all Motherwell players last season and even though he’s only played 300 minutes in league so far he leads the team in the same metric this season too.
Ryan Tait will probably continue to keep Frear out of the line-up, so there should be little to be scared of for Celtic in terms of Motherwell’s wide play, especially with Chris Cadden now also out for a few months. Peter Hartley will return from suspension and you’d imagine that Steve Robinson will stick to a back three and not return to the diamond formation he employed at Ibrox (to hilarious effect).
Danny Johnson takes more shots than any other player in the Premiership this season when he’s on the pitch (4.3 per 90 minutes played) and together with Curtis Main the Motherwell front two get off almost 7 shots between them every game. The problem is one of quantity over quality. While Motherwell take the 7th most shots per game, their average chance quality is the lowest in the league. Apart from set-pieces (they’re 4th in league for goals from corners and free-kicks) and the front two, there seem to be very little in terms of attacking threat from Motherwell.
Gael Bigirimana is the one bright spot across the whole of Motherwell’s middle line. The former England U-20 player who now represents his birth country of Burundi internationally is 19th in the league when it comes to quality of chances set up (same Expected Assist value per 90 as Tom Rogic) and he’s 5th in the league for tackles attempted. Brains and brawn on the lad. A lot of Motherwell’s issues this season seems to be down to very little support or quality around Bigirimana.
It also can’t be easy playing in the centre for Motherwell, as they are the definition of a direct and aggressive team: 49.3% of their passes have gone forward and they’ve committed 16 fouls per game – both are the highest of any team in the league. On Wednesday they’ll face the team with the lowest % of passes going forward and second lowest amount of fouls committed. A true clash of styles.
Mad Scott Brown vs Cool Scott Brown: No starts in almost 8 weeks. Dark, cold, midweek away game against a physical team. The first real threat to his starting position in many, many years. He’s going to be more fired up then a kid on Christmas Eve, isn’t he? Something that Motherwell might well target – Brown need to balance his intensity and aggressiveness with a sufficiently clear head.
Mark Gillespie vs Celtic’s attack: Trevor Carson will hopefully make a full recovery after being diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis this week and ruled out for the rest of the season. I’ve been highly sceptical of the Northern Irishman’s shot-stopping abilities, which the underlying numbers indicated was one of the few real weaknesses in Motherwell’s solid defence last season. For 26-year-old Gillespie, December will be a key period as he tries to convince his club that they don’t need to sign a first-choice goalkeeper in the January transfer window.
Mikael Lustig vs The World: He winds people right up doesn’t he? In terms of Celtic players opposition fans love to hate, he is the superior album track to Brown’s overplayed single hit on Celtic’s Right Up Ye record. He’s going to make a slow-moving ball-boy cry any day now. Can’t wait.
Prediction: Motherwell 0, Celtic 1
(original logo by Frankie Mitchell)