Celtic – Motherwell | The Preview

Celtic return home after a brave but ultimately futile trip to Spain. Waiting for them is a Motherwell team in red-hot form.

Celtic can hold their heads high, but fatigue might be a factor after an hour’s toil with ten men against Valencia. Players continue to return from the injury list, though, and no one has been missed more than Kieran Tierney, who may finally be back on Sunday. Understatement of the year candidate: it would be a huge lift for the team and the support to have a fully-fit KT back in the squad for the run-in to the 2018/19 season.

Despite toiling against Spaniards, Celtic have been horsing all Scottish comers since the calendar changed nine weeks ago. The exhilarating last-minute 1-0 victory at Rugby Park was the Hoops’ eighth win on the spin, and there’s the small matter of not having dropped a single point at home all season. With only the league and Scottish Cup left on the checklist, Celtic can now completely focus on cementing their domestic dominance.

Motherwell, Sunday’s opponents, are a strange case this season. Sitting two points back of sixth-place St. Johnstone (who play Aberdeen on Saturday), Well have earned half of their 36 points in their last six games. A very slow start saw them lose 12 of their first 20, including a 3-0 loss at Celtic Park in December. However, the Steelmen have not lost in the league since December 29, the only blotch on their record since a 2-1 Scottish Cup exit at home to Ross County. Shows you what confidence and a decent manager can do for a side that are essentially the same bunch of cloggers they’ve been for years.

Stats & Facts

  • Motherwell prefer this fixture at Fir Park; they have only won once at Parkhead in twelve years (2-1 in December 2015)
  • Celtic, for their part, have taken points from Motherwell in the last 11 matches in either stadium.
  • In the last nine home wins, Celtic have beaten their opponents by two goals or more ….
  • …and they still haven’t allowed a goal at Celtic Park in calendar year 2019.

Last Five Meetings

Dec ’18Celtic – Motherwell 3-0Premiership
Dec’18Motherwell – Celtic 1-1Premiership
May’18Celtic – Motherwell 2-0Scottish Cup
Mar’ 18Motherwell – Celtic 0-0Premiership
Dec’ 17Celtic – Motherwell 2-2Premiership

Line-ups

Part of Motherwell’s renaissance is their change from a stodgy 3-5-2 that they began the season with to a more open 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, which they used in their 2-1 last-minute win over Hearts last weekend. Gaffer Stephen Robinson has kept the lineup very consistent over the past few matches, which makes my job a hell of a lot easier, so thanks for that, wee Stevie…

The Steelman to watch in this one is going to be young, pacy forward Jake Hastie, who has scored four goals total in three straight matches. He can play on the wing in a midfield three or as part of a forward three, and will definitely be a handful if he can link up with striker Curtis Main or fellow attacking mid David Turnbull.

Motherwell have an American in on loan themselves, a midfielder from Nottingham Forest with the mellifluous name of Gboly Aryibi. Safe to say that he doesn’t have the pedigree of Timothy Weah, but he has been getting games for Well where he hadn’t for Forest, and again, confidence goes a long, long way in this game. The other new face in the squad is Alex Rodriguez (no, not the ex-New York Yankee). When Spanish players wash up in Scotland it usually means they are heavy shite, and given that A-Rod’s career has taken him from New Zealand to Romania, it looks like he’s following that trend.

Step forward, first name on the team sheet: Scott Bain. He has impressed ever since he was given his chance between the sticks, and pulled off multiple top-drawer saves Thursday night in Spain. The knock on Bain was always that his shot-stopping wasn’t as good as his distribution, but he has answered whenever he has been called upon, against opponents as varied as Airdrie and Valencia.

Jeremy Toljan has had a bit of a rough time after impressing in his first couple games for Celtic, but I’m inclined to give him a pass for the two legs of the Valencia tie and that hideous pitch at Rugby Park. There’s no reason to drop him. Dedryck Boyata and Kristoffer Ajer, so impressive a week ago in Kilmarnock, should start as the centre-back pairing, and although he wasn’t in the squad in Spain, this is as good a match as any for Kieran Tierney to make his return at left back. It’s certainly a possibility that Jonny Hayes gets 30 minutes or even a half, best not to push KT in his return.

Scott Brown will miss out on this one due to his sending-off last Sunday, and that opens up some interesting options regarding the midfield. Is it two in midfield or three? Could it be a version of the 3-5-2-ish formation put out by Brendan Rodgers in Valencia? I suspect Celtic will try to return to a more typical formation and squad, with Callum McGregor partnering Ryan Christie in midfield.

In many fans’ opinion, Celtic played their best football of this season when McGregor was able to play a little further back in midfield and get the most out of his superb vision. Christie, for his part, has looked a little off in the last few matches, and a change in position where he has more of a box-to-box role might suit him. Nir Bitton in the 6 role with McGregor in the 8 is also possible.

Your attacking midfield three: Scott Sinclair on the left, who should be raring to go after not playing in Spain, James Forrest on the right, and Oliver Burke between them. Odsonne Edouard started well against Killie but then fell out of the game, but he should have more luck at home, so he’ll start up front in my lineup.

Look Out For…

  • The fabled Euro hangover: I guarantee you many of the supporters will still be a little worse for wear from three days of sol y cerveza, but will Celtic suffer the same hangover? I’ve seen performances with ten men that were more tiring on a team than Thursday night, but Celtic did put a lot of heart and graft into that match. At least Toljan will be fresh.
  • How will Motherwell’s confidence translate to Celtic Park? It’s a bit of immovable object meets unstoppable force, but the Steelmen will need a performance of the season, coupled with a bad day at the office for the Hoops, to take anything out of this.
  • Referee watch: Kevin Clancy, who had an absolutely awful performance in the 1-1 draw at Fir Park, is back to take charge of this fixture. More of an issue will be Tory MP Douglas Ross running the line. Every fucking week, it’s at least one of these clowns – wait until you hear the ref for Tynecastle next week.

Prediction

Celtic 3, Motherwell 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.


Matt Evans is a recent transplant to the UK from the US. Celtic was passed down to him by a rogue soccer-loving Irish-American uncle in the 1980s and by the time European nights started being shown on satellite and streaming worldwide he was hooked. An editor by trade, he edits the 90MC publication, The Cynical, among other football publications. His all-time favourite Celt is Artur Boruc, and if he were a tree he would be a palm tree.


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