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2018-19 has been a troublesome year, but it’s now time for the men in hoops to look to the future.
After a league season that seems to have gone on for longer than the director’s cut-redux-collector’s edition-remastered version of Apocalypse Now, we can finally let out a collective sigh of relief.
It’s been a tougher ride than others in recent memory: whatever way you look at it, Celtic have underperformed repeatedly over the last 10 or so months. Myriad reasons can be given for this, be it fatigue, injuries, management changes or a lack of investment. Ultimately, several members of the current squad have probably come to the end of a cycle, and so some much needed refurbishment must be completed over the summer window.
Over the summer, Celtic will be losing/have lost four loan signings unless anything changes. Timo Weah, Oliver Burke, Jeremy Toljan and Filip ‘Handsome’ Benkovic will all be leaving, alongside Boyata, Lustig, Izzy, Gamboa and De Vries (unless any sign new deals). This will, at worst, leave the club in need of cover at LB, a first choice RB, another CB and most likely a striker as well. On top of this, a replacement is required for Scott Sinclair, who at 30 years of age is losing the legs that have made him so impressive in the past.
In addition, the club looks likely to get another new manager to replace Neil Lennon. I have huge respect for what Lennon has done for the club, but sentimentality must be put aside when it comes to choosing the direction of a football club of such size at a crossroads of such magnitude.
Another aspect to consider is a structural revamp with an eye on the future. Fitba’ is an infinite game, and only with consistent and intelligent development can a club progress and stay ahead of others. Celtic must be aware of the dangers of short-term planning and ‘getting it over the line’, so that 10 in a row does not become a millstone around the neck of the club.
Stats & Facts
- Stat: The Jambos have only scored 5 goals in their last 8 games against Celtic, whilst having conceded 24 against the champions in the same time frame.
- Stat: Hearts have only picked up 1 point in their last 5 games, with four of those coming after the split.
- Stat: Celtic have come out on top in 73% of meetings between the sides since 2005.
- Fact: 10 in a row is not secure so long as Neil Lennon is manager at Parkhead.
Last Five Meetings
|Feb’19||Hearts – Celtic 1-2||Premiership|
|Nov’18||Celtic – Hearts 5-0||Premiership|
|Oct’18||Celtic – Hearts 3-0||League Cup|
|Aug’18||Hearts – Celtic 1-0||Premiership|
|May’18||Hearts – Celtic 1-3||Premiership|
Team & Tactics
The mind of Craig Levein is like an enigma wrapped within a puzzle wrapped within a particularly tricky crossword. In their last 7 games, the Edinburgh side have come out with 6 different formations, making their lineup this weekend difficult to predict. They played a 3-5-2 away at Ibrox and Easter Road, but this brought little success in two big matches with only a single point from six to show for their efforts.
Starting from the back, Zdenek Zlamal who was brought in this time last year can be expected to be between the sticks this weekend. They have plenty choice at the back despite injury to Demetri Mitchell and Benjamin Garuccio and should most likely include captain Christophe Berra. In the middle of the park Hearts have an abundance of players to choose from and can create a midfield out of between 8-10 players. Uche Ikpeazu is expected to be back for at least this weekend and certainly the cup final, but if Craig Levein choose not to show his hand before a cup final, Steven MacLean is also a good option.
Hearts have a reputation as a side of long-ball merchants, and for the most part this is rather true. Above is the pass sonar for all their passes attempted in the Premiership this season (courtesy of Seth Dobson at Modern Fitba), which shows how many passes have been sent in each direction, with the colour indicating the average length of the passes. This works to the advantage of big man up top Uche Ikpeazu, who can hold up the ball well and bring his teammates into the game, even if his speed can hinder him in reaching the loose ball. They have a solid back 3 in on-loan Leeds man Conor Shaughnessy alongside John Souttar and veteran Christophe Berra who can mop up when things go awry, and the ball doesn’t meet the head or feet of a man in maroon.
This contrasts with Celtic who have moved the ball in a very different plane this season (apart from during that awful display at Ibrox where the ball was constantly hit up top.) The pass sonar for the champions shows a high degree of side to side movement, and although the penetration of opposition defences has improved at points over the season thanks to things like the forward drives of Kris Ajer and latterly Jozo Simunovic, they are still happy to pass the ball around the back 4 for large parts of the game.
This weekend can be expected to be an experimental lineup. In his presser this week, Neil Lennon hinted that we might see Ewan Henderson and Karamoko Dembele on the pitch. There is certainly a case to be made that it is too early for the wee man – because he is just that, a wee man – however 10 minutes tacked on at the end of an unimportant game probably wouldn’t make too much difference.
For Michael Johnston, this has been a season of firsts. His first senior goal as well as his debut Glasgow Derby came in the past few months. Due to injury to first team players the 20-year-old has made sporadic appearances in the team. While it’s good to see young talent coming through, he has been thrown into difficult situations (twice isolated at Ibrox), maybe a loan move should be considered for him to provide a run of games and some experience under his belt.
Last time Celtic played Hearts on the final day of the season, they completed their first treble since 2001 a week later. All I’m saying is, make mine a treble treble…
Look Out For….
- Uche or Steven vs Jozo and Kris: The Jam Tarts big man up top has only faced the champions once in his career, at Tynecastle. This will be his first time against Celtic at Parkhead, and an important test for our defensive unit if he plays. If he doesn’t Steven McLean will give them a taste of what is to come at Hampden.
- Young Guns vs The Old Guard: At the end of a long season, with no pressure and perhaps the wish to keep more senior players from injury before the all-important cup final, we may see cameo appearances from some youth players.
- Celtic vs Injury: This season has been fraught with absence through injury, and once again we find ourselves with numerous players out the squad. It’s up to Neil Lennon to fill the gaps in the team and not give away too much for next weekend.
Celtic 2, Hearts 0
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.
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