JOHN HUGHES – Big Yogi to legions of Celtic fans in his rampant goalscoring days in the sixties – continues his exclusive countdown to the Hoops’ visit to Ibrox. Today, in another CQN special, the Hoops legend selects his line-up for the clash in Govan.
THE POWER AND THE GLORY…here I am racing away from Rangers’ Alex MacDonald.
I’m told Graeme Murty will have his Rangers players fired up for the game against Celtic at Ibrox on Sunday. Apparently, they will go at the champions right from the off with all guns blazing.
Good for them. They’ll be wasting their time, though. The points will be heading back to Parkhead around 2pm and they will have the opportunity to reflect on all their empty words and rash promises.
Celtic possess far too much quality within their ranks to falter in Govan, mark my words. The opposition can come at them with their sleeves rolled up and nostrils flaring, it won’t make one iota of a difference. Brendan Rodgers has seen his Celtic side win six out of their eight meetings with the Ibrox team since he took over at Parkhead. The other two have ended in draws. As far as I’m concerned, my old club will remain unbeaten after Sunday’s skirmish.
Just look at the players Brendan has at his disposal. And then study the opposition. Would you swap Declan John or Lee Wallace for Kieran Tierney? How about David Bates for Kristoffer Ajer? Jason Holt for Scott Brown? Candeias for James Forrest? Alfredo Morelos for Moussa Dembele? Joe Dodoo for anybody?
If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of those questions, I would advise you go and spend some considerable time in a darkened room.
I’ve had a look at Celtic’s squad in an attempt to put together a line-up that will emerge victorious in enemy territory at the weekend. It’s an embarrassment of riches and that is taking into consideration Brendan cannot select the likes of Craig Gordon, Stuart Armstrong, Nir Bitton, Leigh Griffiths and Jonny Hayes who are all sidelined with injury. Mikael Lustig will be absent, too, as he serves a one-game suspension.
To a lot of other teams that might represent a crisis. Not this Celtic squad, though. I’m looking at the players who didn’t get into my team and who aren’t even sure of a place on the substitutes’ bench.
I’m talking about such talent as Scott Sinclair, Tom Rogic, Patrick Roberts, Charly Musonda, Eboue Kouassi and Cristian Gamboa. This may also be a game that has come too early for young Jack Hendry, our January recruit from Dundee, who I’m convinced will have a huge career at the club.
CRASH! There’s no chance for Airdrie keeper Lawrie Leslie as I wallop the ball into
the roof of the net in a 4-0 Scottish Cup semi-final win in 1961 at Hampden.
Okay, who got the nod for our Ibrox mission? There’s no competition to Dorus de Vries in goal, so he’s an automatic selection.
I would go with a back three of Ajer, Jozo Simunovic and Marvin Compper, the same defensive trio that started last weekend’s Scottish Cup win over Morton.
Ajer and Simunovic walk into the line-up and I’m putting a bit of faith in Compper to deliver a thoroughly professional display. The 32-year-old German, who could still prove to be a snip at £1million from Bundesliga outfit RB Leipzig, needs games to sharpen his match fitness, so why not keep him in the team for the remainder of the campaign and have him completely bedded in for the crucial Champions League qualifiers in the summer?
On the flanks I would have Forrest on the right and Tierney on the left. I thought about Roberts, who, like Dembele, is a big-game player, but I doubt if the manager will pitch him straight in considering he hasn’t played a first team game since November.
I thought he might have got a run against Morton in the last 20 minutes or so when my old club were a couple of goals ahead and a place in the semi-final was assured. However, Brendan kept him on the bench and he will have his reasons for that. Having said that, I would have been tempted to reintroduce the player, but, of course, he could still play a role on Sunday as an impact substitute.
You could say the same about Sinclair and Musonda. The last thing a tired Rangers player would want to see on this occasion would be one – or both – of these guys coming on to get involved and show their skills.
I realise Sinclair has played well at Ibrox in the past and there could be a case for horses for courses, but, to be honest, I think he has been a bit off the pace in recent months. Yes, I know statistics will prove he is continuing to deliver and he is the team’s top scorer with 17 goals. Maybe our expectations levels are too high after his marvellous debut campaign, but the spark and invention of last season have only made rare appearances this time around.
I will be delighted if he makes me eat my words, but I don’t think he’ll get the nod to start against Murty’s team on this occasion.
“Callum McGregor has got a lot of qualities and he’ll show them again at Ibrox on Sunday.”
Musonda? He looks a real bag of tricks with a mixture of genuine qualities as he showed when he came on against Zenit St Petersburg and set up the winning goal for Callum McGregor. I would have him on stand-by at Ibrox and unleash him when the time was right.
And I’ve got to choose McGregor. He is flourishing under the influence of Brendan Rodgers and his touch, movement, vision and awareness to exploit space are a joy to watch. There’s little doubt he thrives on playing at Ibrox and he is also good for nicking a goal at vital times.
The holding midfielders would have to be Scott Brown and Olivier Ntcham. What can I say about the skipper? He’s a top man who continues to deliver. Broony’s got a great temperament and simply revels on big-match atmospheres. No doubt he will get niggled on Sunday, but I’m sure he’ll rise above that sort of stuff and lead by example.
I like the look of Ntcham. When he is in the mood, he is very, very good. The Frenchman’s a big, powerful guy and he is another who won’t be intimidated. I can visualise Brown and Ntcham dictating things throughout the 90 minutes.
My last two spots in the forward positions would also go to a pair of our Gallic cousins, Dembele and Odsonne Edouard. Last season’s 32-goal man is a shoo-in, of course.
He walloped in five goals – including his memorable hat-trick in the 5-1 triumph at Parkhead – in five outings against Rangers during the previous campaign. I believe he has got something to prove in the run-in to the season.
Okay, he has been hampered with ligament problems, but his penalty-kick against Morton was only his 12th goal of the campaign. Who would have bet on him having to wait until February to get into double figures?
That was the case when he headed in from just about under the crossbar against Aberdeen at Pittodrie. I know some shrewd judges who were predicting he would go through the 40-goal mark this term. Maybe even hit the magical half-century.
That’s not going to happen, but, like any ambitious player, he will have an eye on getting a place in Didier Deschamps’ French international squad for the World Cup Finals in Russia in the summer. That’s got to be his aim. Why not? He has proved he can get goals at Under-21 level, so a step up to the top team is the natural progression.
“Moussa Dembele will be determined to end the season on a high.”
There will still be some places up for grabs in the national pool and every manager loves a goalscorer. Moussa will undoubtedly be aware of the situation and that might just be an extra spur for him in the coming months. With Brendan around, though, I doubt if the big chap will need any outside influences as far as motivation is concerned.
I liked the look of Edouard when he came on at half-time against Morton while the game was still goalless. There’s a lot of drive and energy from the PSG youngster, although I doubt if he will ever be a prolific marksman.
I believe he is more suited to playing around or off the main striker and I reckon he would give the Rangers back lot problems with his strength and running power. Brendan, of course, has a decision to make on Edouard at the end of the season. Does he make the move permanent? Or does the player return to France?
A good display at Ibrox would go a long way to making up the manager’s mind.
So, in a 3-5-2 formation, I would go with: De Vries; Ajer, Simunovic, Compper; Forrest, Brown, McGregor, Ntcham, Tierney; Edouard and Dembele.
I don’t imagine that collection would be bullied by anyone. I can’t see beyond anything other than a victory for Brendan and the lads on Sunday. I would settle for 2-0.
Bring it on!
TOMORROW: Don’t miss another big-name exclusive on the countdown to the High Noon shoot-out at Ibrox. Who will be making his prediction this time? All will be revealed in CQN, the unbeatable magazine for all Celtic supporters
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