After three wins and a draw against Newco this season, there is some confidence among the support. Newco are also confident and not without reason. After a poor start at Ibrox on 2 January, they controlled the game, turned Celtic over, before slipping up late on.
Although Celtic were totally dominant in the League Cup Final in February, the result was tight. Margins matter in football and it is only a marginal improvement Newco are looking for. Newco changed things up when they came to Celtic Park earlier this month. Up against it, without any fans, they pressed Celtic high, which upset our passing. It was a game dominated by mistakes – Celtic’s largely went unpunished, two unfathomable Newco mistakes gave us the result.
Mick Beale knows there is little he can do about Kyogo, Maeda and Jota, who will surely start. They will defend deep when Celtic cross the halfway line and try to emulate Motherwell’s achievement last weekend.
Against the Celtic defence, he will look for set pieces. Their goals at Celtic Park came from a free kick and the second ball from a corner. Their disallowed goal also came from a corner and although the shove by Morelos was punished, they may hope that he will get away with something similar next time.
How marginal does a shove need to be before it’s a foul? Morelos is as out of shape as anyone in the modern game, but he is a handful. Playing for set pieces is a legitimate tactic for Newco tomorrow, it will allow them to bring all their strengths to the fore. Short of this, the Celtic defence look far too mobile for them.
Midfield is where Beale will hope to trouble Celtic, he will flood this area and try to make it difficult for Celtic to pass through. It is also where Ange Postecoglou has major decisions to make. If Ange gets it right here, we will be back at Hampden in June.
I vacillate between wanting Hatate to start the game or to be on the bench. Anyone out for six weeks will be well short of sharpness and endurance. If he starts as a sub and comes on during the second half, will he have energy for extra time? It is never healthy for your subs to run out of steam. Giving him the opening period might be a better gameplan.
We saw this scenario play out when the teams met at the start of the month. Aaron Mooy, one of the heroes of the League Cup Final and returning from injury, set the tone for Celtic’s poor passing. He had neither the sharpness nor enough energy to get around the field.
Aaron has been out of favour since, but his fitness deficiencies will surely be addressed by now. I would start him. He can dictate a game and has the physicality to cope with what I am certain will be Newco’s other midfield strategy – “get in amongst them”, which is a euphemism for kicking and elbowing people.
On this point, Cantwell flew into challenges at Celtic Park until eventually curtailed by a yellow card. He will do the same tomorrow. Let him. Give him enough rope and do not retaliate, it is not our natural game, nor it is Cantwell’s. He’s no Barry Robson.
Use of substitutions is likely to be critical to the outcome. Liel Abada enjoys facing Newco, Barasic in particular. While their defence are always occupied with the movement of Kyogo, also having Abada dart around the penalty area like a pinball is too much for them to cope with.
Like Hatate, he has been out for six weeks and will not be in perfect shape, but he is young and has a killer touch in the box. He could be the match winner.