ANGE POSTECOGLOU is proving to be a master manipulator in taking risks in the numbers game.

Former Celtic striker Chris Sutton praises the Hoops boss for the juggling act he performs on a weekly matchday basis with his squad – and can still come up with a winning formula.

Postecoglou is not slow to shuffle his pack and will undoubtedly do the same again this afternoon when Ross County are the visitors to the east end of Glasgow before the month-long World Cup Finals break.

FOR MY NEXT TRICK…Ange Postecoglou ponders a switch in the 4-2 win over Dundee United.

Sutton has been impressed with the way the 57-year-old Greek-Australian gaffer has manoeuvred his way through the rigorous challenges as he focuses on the victories that will bring a second successive Premiership.

The holders will also face Kilmarnock in the Viaplay League Cup semi-final at Hampden on January 14 while the Scottish Cup, the one that got away last season, is also on the radar.

Celtic have been without the onfield leadership qualities of skipper Callum McGregor for the past 10 games since he hobbled off with a knee injury before the interval in the 3-1 loss to RB Leipzig in Germany on October 5.

Filipe Jota and Carl Starfelt have also been sidelined, but the champions have steadfastly remained on course with 13 league wins in 14 outings, the only blip coming in their worst performance of the campaign in the 2-0 flop against St Mirren in Paisley in mid-September.

PERFECT TIMING…Kyogo Furuhashi races away after glancing in the third against Dundee United in the last minute.

Looking at the welter of changes in the midst of player interchanging, Sutton said: “We know that Ange Postecoglou has courage in his convictions. We’ve seen that often enough with his style of play and approach.

“He clearly felt it was necessary and the sheer volume of switches and changes in the past 12 games has been eye opening.

“In fairness, even he admitted himself this week that it has been far more than he would have liked and that it has cost the team in terms of some cohesion. But it has not cost them in terms of results on the home front and you have to give him huge credit for the way he has rotated and kept everyone fresh and firing.

“During the period, he’s had to cope without Callum McGregor. Losing the skipper at any time is a blow and the squad struggled to handle it when he was missing this time a year ago.

STOPPAGE-TIME SLAMMER…Liel Abada cleverly lobs in the fourth to settle the game.

“Mercifully for him, Matt O’Riley and Reo Hatate have carried the burden and stayed healthy. It has to be said, the Japanese kid looked off it at Fir Park in midweek starting his twelfth successive game and that’s understandable, yet O’Riley delivered again.

“Jota has missed a few of the games and Starfelt’s absence has been key. I don’t mind Moritz Jenz, he’s done fine since signing. However, the Swede is the first pick.”

Sutton, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “It’s not by chance, of course. Postecoglou was having to pull people out of the ticket office to fill a bench at times at the tail end of last year with resources stretched and he hit the transfer market in January and last summer to ensure he’d be ready for this season.

“It’s been a gamble. Making five and six changes going to places like Tynecastle for difficult away games is a risk. Losing points creates problems for the following game. Pressure builds.

MATCHWINNER…Daizen Maeda beats defender Stephen O’Donnell to fire in Celtic’s points-clincher at Fir Park.

“But Postecoglou has managed to just about pull it off so far. That point has been proven perfectly in the past week with the way games have been decided in the final stages. Last Saturday, it was the freshness and alertness of Kyogo Furuhashi and Liel Abada having come off the bench which won the match against Dundee United with two goals in stoppage time.

“Against Motherwell in midweek, Celtic were nowhere near their best. The boss said himself it was a grind and the game was getting dangerous late for them in the second-half.

“With 10 minutes to go, he was able to unleash the fresh legs of Daizen Maeda. Just over 10 minutes earlier, he’d been able to do the same with David Turnbull for the flagging Hatate.

“Lo and behold, Turnbull collects possession, pings a perfect pass into the run of Maeda who is fast and fresh enough to speed away from his marker and fire home the goal that ended up winning the game.

“Once again, the benefit of having energy from a freshened-up batch of individuals makes the difference late in matches.”

THAT’S MY BHOY…Giorgos Giakoumakis gleefully lifts Daizen Maeda into the air after Celtic’s winning goal.

Sutton added: “Last season, Postecoglou didn’t have that strength in depth or energy. They were tying up at the end of matches before Christmas. People will say it’s easier for him because he has the finance to build such a quality squad. That’s fair enough.

“Others will point to the fact there was no sense in the so-called smaller clubs opting to keep five subs rule in place this season because it allows teams like Celtic to bring on such firepower. Again, fair enough.

“But, no matter these scenarios, it takes skill and clever management to put it all together and make it work. Now, with one game to go, Postecoglou is within touching distance of an entire long-term autumn project coming together.

“Such is the nature of Glasgow that, if they fail to defeat County and the gap is cut at the top going into the World Cup break, he’ll get criticised. That’s the mad footballing world of the city.

“But, if he gets the game won, it’ll complete some juggling act.”

* DON’T miss the unbeatable match report from Celtic v Ross County this afternoon – only in your champion CQN.


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