Celtic look to regain their winning form as they travel up to Dundee for a St. Patrick’s Day clash.
The away supporters’ bus trips up to Dundee will be enjoyable – of that there is no doubt – and their good cheer will help erase any ill feelings left over from last Saturday’s 0-0 borefest against a stodgy Aberdeen. The Hoops will be well-rested and eager to take three points before the international break and a big derby at the end of the month. While injuries to key players still affect the squad, Celtic should have more than enough in the tank to take on a Dundee team struggling mightily to just stay in the Premiership.
The positive response to the managerial change hit a bit of a snag last weekend. While you could argue that it wasn’t done playing the best football, the back-to-back away wins over Hearts and Hibs will likely define the moment in Celtic’s season where the collective spine stiffened and the league (and possibly Scottish Cup) would be effectively won. However, real questions are still to be answered about the short-term and long-term future of the club, the manager, and the squad, but until then it’s one game at a time towards the goal of eight in a row and a treble treble.
Suffice it to say, relegation candidates Dundee would love to have Celtic’s “problems”. They are one point in front of last-place St. Mirren, and actually have a worse goal differential than the Saints. The Taysiders have lost three in a row, although they can take some small comfort from a valiant effort in a 1-0 loss to Hearts in their last match. The last time Celtic visited Dens Park, on Halloween night was a horror show indeed for the home side,as they were routed by the champions 5-0.
Stats & Facts Corner
- Dundee have taken only one point at home since December 9
- Celtic have won their last four matches at Dens Park, and have not lost there since September 1988
- Of all teams in the Premiership, Dundee concede their opponents’ first goal at Dens Park the earliest, an average of 29 minutes into games
- Celtic have kept clean sheets in each of the last six against the Dark Blues
- Dundee have two McGowans and two Currans on their roster, which made the lineup prediction take forever, and must make TV commentary awfully confusing.
|Dec’19||Celtic – Dundee 3-0||Premiership|
|Oct’18||Dundee – Celtic 0-5||Premiership|
|Apr’18||Celtic – Dundee 0-0||Premiership|
|Dec’17||Dundee – Celtic 0-2||Premiership|
|Oct’17||Celtic – Dundee 1-0||Premiership|
Dundee did a lot of short-term loan business in the winter transfer window, so some new faces are in Jim McIntyre’s squad, although they have met with no more success than the old ones. Many of the eleven that have been playing in dark blue since the winter break make up a motley crew of six-month loanees trying to stave off the drop. Glen Kamara has gone to Glasgow to give away goals for Rangers; and a decent right back in Cammy Kerr has been on the bench recently.
The most familiar new face on Tayside to Scottish football fans is centre-back (and ex-Dundee United) Ryan McGowan, on loan from Bradford City. There’s left mid Andy Dales (who came off against Hearts with an injury) and right back James Horsfield(displacer of Kerr), both on loan from Scunthorpe; as well as midfielders Ethan Robson (Sunderland) and John O’Sullivan (Blackpool). Even the goalkeeper, Seny Dieng, is on loan from QPR. Striker Craig Curran made the short trip over the road from Tannadice in the January window.
Left back Nathan Ralph may be the only man who started in December at Celtic Park to also start this one. However, I also put Paul McGowan in my lineup because I love the commentary comedy potential for two McGowans and two Currans playing in the same eleven. (The other Curran, centre-back Jesse, will in the end probably sit in favor of Darren O’Dea, but hey, we can dream.)
Celtic’s injury record this season has been laughably bad, and it’s a testament to how wide the gap is that they still sit eight points clear. At the beginning of the season, it was an injury crisis with defenders. Then towards the middle of the season it was forwards. And now, it’s midfielders.
In his Friday presser, Neil Lennon mentioned that CallumMcGregor “could feature” on Sunday, and I’m thinking he’ll be fit to start as he was named in the Scotland squad for the upcoming international break. Although, so help me God, if he re-aggravates his calf injury playing on some cowp of a pitch in San Marino, I’m going to lose it. International-duty injuries are the worst kind.
Tom Rogic, according to Lenny, is still a bit of time away, andit’s looking less likely he’ll be ready to start the derby at the end of the month. Ryan Christie is also unavailable, possibly well into April. So with four healthy midfielders: two who are more defensive, one who is just getting back from a six-week injury, and one who is 18 years old, a little creativity is called for in Sunday’s lineup.
My first thought is by now a cliché: “Bitton and Brown together slow things down too much.” CalMac’s hopeful return would solve that problem and Bitton, not Brown, will most likely make way for him. Dedryck Boyata and Kristoffer Ajer should start every match together until the end of the season, if possible, as they have made an excellent pairing. Ajer’s marauding runs forward on Sunday was one of the only fun parts of watching that match, and so he has earned himself a wee arrow in the lineup graphic. Well done, big man.
Kieran Tierney, still getting back to top match fitness himself, will start at left back and I think Mikael Lustig will start at right back. The reason for choosing Lustig is that I believe he’ll be the starter against Rangers, and it’s good to get him 60-70 minutes in this one.
Up front is where it gets a little weird. Along with the feelingthat Brown-Bitton in the same midfield shouldn’t happen, I really can’t believe that we signed Odsonne Edouard from PSG for £9 million to come off the bench. He should be given the chance to carry the team on his back because we signed him to be that kind of player. Yes, Oliver Burke has great pace and has acquitted himself well since coming in on loan – but he’s not a striker. Timothy Weah isn’t really the answer at the position either, for a few different reasons. It’s got to be Edouard up front.
Until Christie and Rogic return and give Celtic a more natural player at the centre of the attacking three, why not start withJames Forrest there? It worked very well the first time it was tried as a second-half positional change, but was a little less successful when it was tried again in the second half against Aberdeen. Scott Sinclair and Tierney have yet to get their partnership on the left ticking, so hopefully having most of the ball and not having to deal with the terrier-like attentions of Cammy Kerr will help get them going. And on the right you could start Oliver Burke or Timothy Weah, and you’d have to imagine Burke will get the nod simply based on recent history. Weah, Ewan Henderson (for McGregor) and Jeremy Toljan (for Lustig) might be your three subs if all goes well.
Finally, Scott Bain makes his triumphant return to Tayside, and it’s just too bad Neil McCann won’t be there to see it.
Key points to watch
- Why not just take them all short?: A team of Celtic’s caliber should be more successful at corner kicks. The team added a little innovation when they tried an off-the-training-ground front-post flick-trick against Aberdeen, but it didn’t work. Nor did it work the next two times it was tried. Hopefully McGregor’s return will see some improved deliveries; Celtic will likely have a lot of chances again this weekend.
- Away-day protocol: It’s no secret that Celtic have been comparatively mediocre on the road this season, certainly in comparison to their nearly spotless home record. However, they have quietly won their last four away matches, including at both of Edinburgh’s difficult venues.
- Eyes on the prize: It hasn’t usually been an issue for Celtic, but players could be forgiven for having one eye on the upcoming international break and/or the massive derby at the end of the month. The “one game at a time” mantra has worked very well, and it’s important to pay attention to the possible banana skin waiting at Dens Park, put in a solid performance, avoid injuries and sendings-off, and go into the break on a high note.
- Referee watch: Bobby Madden. The only good thing about getting Madden in this one is that he won’t be in charge of the derby on the 31st.
Dundee 0, Celtic 2
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.