(From 1st July, the 90 Minute Cynic is going full-time, creating almost daily podcasts and becoming a real alternative to the mainstream Celtic coverage. For all the details and how to support us, please visit our Patreon page)
After a long, tough campaign, it’s finally the potential title decider for Celtic. No further motivation should be needed.
Whether Celtic are merely playing within themselves at the tail end of an endless season, or whether there are serious cracks being revealed in a stagnating squad under a caretaker manager whose future is undecided, is immaterial right now. Eight in a row is a win or a draw away, and if there is any fight left in the team, it needs to come out at Pittodrie on Saturday. The alternative is as unthinkable as it is unlikely: a dispiriting loss heading into a derby at Ibrox that either wins the title for Celtic (imagine the scenes) or leads to the trophy hanging in the balance – perhaps even with a helicopter involved – on the final matchday.
The Hoops should be confident of going back down the road to Glasgow as champions-elect. Aberdeen have generally played well against Celtic this season, but it’s mostly been on the stodgy, defensive side of the ball, save for an aberrant 3-4 defeat on Boxing Day. So unless Celtic can find another gear to unlock a tight defense, it looks like it’s going to be another 90 minutes of searching for one bit of brilliance.
It remains to be seen how Derek McInnes intends to set his stall out against Celtic this time. His agricultural, “kick the shit out of them” tactics were appallingly ineffective at Hampden, as Aberdeen went down to nine men and Celtic scored three goals for the first time in two months. Last weekend in Glasgow, they were possibly defensive to a fault, getting off a mere four total shots against a Rangers side they’ve handled well of late. They may simply not have the personnel to play differently. Still, they won’t want Celtic celebrating a title on their own turf.
Stats & Facts
- Aberdeen have lost 50 of their last 61 matches with Celtic, including the last five at Pittodrie.
- Celtic have kept clean sheets in seven of their last eight, and are unbeaten in all Scottish competition in 2019.
- Celtic have failed to score more than two goals in their last eight league matches.
- Aberdeen have conceded goals in their last five home ties (W1 D2 L2).
- McInnes will be watching this one from the stands after picking up a one-match touchline ban for his actions in the semifinal.
Last Five Meetings
|Apr’19||Celtic – Aberdeen 3-0||Scottish Cup|
|Mar’19||Celtic – Aberdeen 0-0||Premiership|
|Dec’18||Aberdeen – Celtic 3-4||Premiership|
|Dec’18||Celtic – Aberdeen 1-0||League Cup|
|Sep’18||Celtic – Aberdeen 1-0||Premiership|
Derek McInnes will need to use every scrap from a depleted squad to name his starting eleven on Saturday. Mainstay centre-back Andy Considine was sent off at Ibrox after two yellow cards last weekend; Niall McGinn, Graeme Shinnie, and Connor McLennan are out for the season with injuries; and Gary Mackay-Steven is back in training from his injury earlier in the year, but will miss out on this one.
One scrap that will be ready for this match will be right back Shay Logan, who’s missed the last three months with an ankle injury. Having to track Celtic’s attackers for 90 minutes should be a tall order in his return. Dom Ball (who plays a much better right back than Logan does) will shift to the centre of defence to replace Considine. Scott McKenna, the other centre-half, and the talented Max Lowe at left back round out Aberdeen’s back four. Joe Lewis, who just signed a new long-term deal and who usually raises his game against Celtic, will be in nets.
Lewis Ferguson, last seen stamping on Tom Rogic, and either Stephen Gleeson or Dean Campbell will be in the centre of midfield for Aberdeen. It’s an open question whether Ferguson is capable of behaving himself against Celtic in what will be another highly-charged atmosphere. McInnes would surely like to call on better attacking talent than Stevie May and James Wilson, who have both been unimpressive this season, but they’re all he’s got. Greg Stewart will be started out on the right wing, with 16-goal striker Sam Cosgrove up front.
Celtic have been playing a fairly settled lineup of late, and one (if not the only) question is the personnel on the left side. Neil Lennon seems to believe Emilio Izaguirre offers more at the left back position than Jonny Hayes, preferring Hayes further forward as a replacement for Scott Sinclair. However, it’s pretty clear that Emilio isn’t nearly the player he used to be, and the “get it forward and lump in a cross” style which he personifies isn’t the style Celtic should be playing.
My preference for this one would be Hayes at LB, assuming his fitness, with Sinclair on the left side of the attacking midfield three. Sinclair has four goals against Aberdeen this season, including a hat trick the last time Celtic went to Pittodrie, so he’s worth the start this weekend. Kieran Tierney is still not 100% but could possibly play some part on Saturday, according to the manager’s Thursday press conference.
As noted, there’s not much mystery to the rest of the starting eleven, due to injuries and the loan bhoys Burke and Weah not having been involved of late. Weah is back with the squad after heading off with the USA U23s, and it’s a mystery to me why he doesn’t get used more often. Odsonne Edouard (goalless in April) will start up front with Tom Rogic and Premiership player-of-the-year candidate James Forrest partnering Sinclair behind him.
Celtic’s other PotY nominee, Callum McGregor, will partner with Scott Brown in the centre of midfield. Brown will need to be on his best behaviour as John Beaton only misses red-card offenses when they happen at Ibrox, and a red in this one would mean serious bother for next week’s fixture. Mikael Lustig at right back, Scott Bain in goals, and the dynamic defensive duo of Kristoffer Ajer and Jozo Simunovic round out the Celtic starters.
Look Out For….
- Disciplinary matters: Even more than usual, Celtic will need to keep their heads on Saturday, despite likely provocation coming their way from Aberdeen. A sending-off would be doubly disastrous with a potentially meaningful match at Ibrox next weekend.
- Holding out for a hero: Jozo Simunovic’s goal in the 67th minute last week was doubly special because it appeared as if an intervention from Heaven saved Celtic from yet another dreadfully dull 0-0. Needing only a draw against a dour Aberdeen side, you’d have to think one goal might just be enough for Celtic – who will show that one bright spark to see them through? (My money? It’s on Tom Rogic.)
- Referee watch: John Beaton, referee, media relations manager, apparent patron of loyalist taverns, and in no way possibly biased, is for some reason in charge of a possible Celtic title decider. The last time Celtic saw Beaton, he was ignoring multiple red-card offences by – what do you know! – Rangers. Given Aberdeen’s recent history of minimally punished or even unpunished assaults on Celtic players, you have to wonder where player safety ranks among Scottish referees’ priorities.
- Counting sheep: As was the case in the Scottish Cup semifinal, due to injury and suspension Aberdeen are again very shorthanded in terms of personnel. There certainly isn’t an attacking game-changer to come off the bench, and having to name a wealth of defensive replacements might force McInnes’s hand in terms of tactics.
Aberdeen 0, Celtic 1
The original match poster is by Frankie Mitchell (@madebyfrankie). You can buy a print of this and all of Frankie’s other illustrations and drawings from her online shop – her work is also available on t-shirts, stickers and many other products.
From 1st July, the 90 Minute Cynic is going full-time, creating almost daily podcasts and becoming a real alternative to the mainstream Celtic coverage. For all the details and how to support us, please visit our Patreon page)