A massive semifinal awaits; the penultimate step in the treble-treble, as Celtic look to continue their dominance of Aberdeen at Hampden.
It’s been a weird couple of months, innit? Neil Lennon’s emergency appointment just seven weeks ago was greeted with a mixture of muted optimism and relief, and the results since then have been excellent: won four, drawn twice in the league and advanced in the Scottish Cup at a difficult venue. Indeed, Celtic have even improved their expected goals difference after Lennon took charge. But there is still a lingering anxiety among some of the support about a lack of cutting edge and being able to turn those expected goals into real ones.
The winner of this tie will face either Inverness Caley Thistle or Hearts in the final. Victory for Celtic this Sunday would be an undeniable triumph. Aberdeen are no mugs – check out the last five meeting below – and the stodgy 0-0 at Parkhead last month was the best that a Scottish opponent has played at Celtic Park in quite awhile. Getting the beating of them at Hampden will not be easy. But Celtic have the firepower to beat anyone, and with some key players getting back to full fitness you have to like the Hoops’ chances.
Aberdeen are seeing Celtic at Hampden for the fourth time in three years, but familiarity hasn’t made it easier for them. Since their 2013/14 League Cup victory, they have lost five times at the national stadium. They sit tied for third in the league (Kilmarnock ahead on goal difference), but their season has been uneven at best. They’ve won their last two in decent fashion, however, and will certainly have their tails up knowing they have gone toe-to-toe with the champions on multiple occasions.
Stats & Facts
- Going back to 2004/05, Aberdeen’s record against Celtic is a hideous W7 D4 L49.
- Celtic have kept clean sheets in five of their last six, and are unbeaten in eight straight.
- Aberdeen’s last win over Celtic at Hampden was in the 1992/93 League Cup semifinal.
- Since the 0-0 draw at Parkhead, Aberdeen have scored in five straight matches.
- Celtic have scored 2 goals or more in their last 13 Scottish Cup ties.
Last Five Meetings
|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|
|May’18||Celtic – Aberdeen 0-1||Premiership|
With the loss of Gary Mackay-Steven and Shay Logan through injuries and Graeme Shinnie due to suspension, Aberdeen have a bit of a numbers problem. Derek McInnes’ starting eleven is almost a given, with only a couple of questions for him to answer in terms of formation and manpower. One is how to fill out a seven-man bench.
Striker Sam Cosgrove has cemented his role leading the Sheep herd, and with 16 league goals and 4 in the Scottish Cup campaign, he’s a serious goal threat and will need to be marshalled carefully. Niall McGinn, Greg Stewart, Lewis Ferguson, and Dean Campbell will make up the midfield four. Then it’s down to McInnes whether Connor McLennan is added as a second striker to play off Cosgrove, or someone like Stephen Gleeson is added to shore up the midfield.
The Aberdeen defense is capable, but has had an up-and-down the last six weeks, allowing two goals to Hamilton and two to Hearts, both at Pittodrie. Yet the two centre-backs, Considine and McKenna, are a well-drilled unit, and Max Lowe and Dom Ball have stepped into their roles on the defensive wings nicely. Maybe in the offseason someone will make Aberdeen a lowball offer for the Lowe-Ball fullback pairing…
Celtic, with Coach Neil at the wheel, will have a larger complement of players to choose from, but sometimes that can lead to bad decisions regarding the lineup, an area where Lennon has come in for some criticism. But having Tom Rogic and Ryan Christie back fit can only be a good thing since I feel this match is going to be won or lost mainly in the midfield. There’s no reason to put out an avant-garde squad like the 3-5-2 against Livingston, so I’m expecting a return to normalcy with Celtic’s best eleven in their best formation.
Back to front: Scott Bain, the presumed #1 going into next season, was blooded at Hampden in the League Cup final win; he knows what it’s like to lift trophies and will surely be called upon at least once or twice in this one, in search of another. The defence in front of him, left to right: stalwart Kieran Tierney, who hopefully won’t get his teeth knocked out this time around; Kristoffer Ajer, so spectacular of late; Filip Benkovic, in for the injured Dedryck Boyata; and Mikael Lustig.
The aforementioned midfield will have an easier time going up against a Shinnie-less Aberdeen side. Scott Brown, in search of his tenth cup with Celtic, will join Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie in the midfield three. Christie was superb in the 1-0 League Cup final win, and he should be preferred to Tom Rogic, who will likely come off the bench as he did in the 2017 Scottish Cup final… and we all know how that worked out.
And now for the attacking three. Odsonne Edouard up front and James Forrest on the right should be no-brainer picks, so it’s just the left wing that needs some thought put into it. The last four matches have seen four different players in that position (KT, Weah, Sinclair and Hayes), with only Weah paying off with a goal at St Mirren. It’s sort of a coin toss, but I go with Weah in this one. He’s a big-game player who surely wants to make his mark here, so I’d be inclined to opt for his youthful optimismand his bags of talent to keep Aberdeen’s makeshift right back occupied.
Sinclair loves scoring against Aberdeen this season –four goals in four games including a Boxing Day hat trick up at Pittodrie – and has nine goals in Scottish Cup competition across his three seasons at Celtic, but has just one goal in his last six and hasn’t featured at all in the last two matches. It’s quite possible he’s not fancied by the current management, and I’d expect to see him on the bench.
Look Out For….
- Will the real Celtic please stand up? Although the results can’t be argued with, there is some real concern about the way the Hoops have gone about business on the field, especially some real second-half regressions. However, one of the better performances over 90 minutes came in the Scottish Cup quarterfinal knockout match at Easter Road. All eyes will be on Hampden to see if Celtic can rise to the occasion yet again.
- Corner bhoys? For a possession-based team that take a lot of corner kicks and free kicks in their opponents’ half, Celtic have a horrific record of scoring from them. It’s not a question of personnel (Celtic are on average taller than opponents), but a question of technique and execution as too many corners are gratefully met by the first defender. Aberdeen, meanwhile, have a big team that can score off corners.
- Referee watch: Craig Thomson gets the big whistle for this one, likely his final time refereeing Celtic before he retires at the end of the season. Thomson was in charge of Celtic’s 0-0 draw with Aberdeen last month.
- Aberdeen’s bench: As mentioned above, due to injury and suspension Aberdeen are very shorthanded, particularly in the midfield. Celtic’s bench will be full of talent, but McInnes is going to need to dig very deep to find a potential game-changer back there.
Celtic 2, Aberdeen 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.