CHRIS SUTTON reckons the return of Carl Starfelt will be every bit as important as that of Callum McGregor in the second half of the season.

The former Celtic goal hero reckons the champions have missed the steadying influence of the unsung Swede alongside Cameron Carter-Vickers in the heart of the Hoops rearguard.

McGregor has missed 11 games since limping off with a knee injury in the first-half f the 3-1 Champions League loss to RB Leipzig in Germany on October 5.

RISE AND SHINE…Carl Starfelt leaps high to clear from Motherwell striker Louis Moult as defensive partner Cameron Carter-Vickers looks on.

Starfelt had to be replaced by Moritz Jenz just before the hour mark of the 4-0 victory in the derby encounter at Parkhead on September 3. That kept the £4.2million arrival from Rubin Kazan in July 2021 on the sidelines until he made appearances in the 2-1 wins over Motherwell and Ross County before the World Cup break.

Sutton said: “Callum McGregor is a huge presence for Celtic. It’s obvious his return is a massive boost for Ange Postecoglou. Carl Starfelt wouldn’t have the same sort of status.

“It would be less obvious to suggest keeping him sound in the coming weeks might be just as important to the boss. But that’s what I think.

“Before folk start wondering what I’m on about, let me explain. McGregor is massive to Celtic. Not only is he the leader in terms of being skipper, his performances are always top drawer. Rarely does he slip below an eight out of 10 and his ability and attitude are worth their weight in gold.

AIR WE GO…Carl Starfelt is sent flying after a wayward lunge from Motherwell’s Josh Morris in the 2-1 win at Fir Park last month.

“The fact that Celtic were able to get through a gruelling period of Premiership matches without their injured captain and not drop a point was a brilliant and, perhaps, season-defining spell. But they managed it because the cover was up to the job.

“Matt O’Riley and Reo Hatate took the responsibility, played every game and managed to fill the void.

“Those boys did a superb job and Aaron Mooy was another who contributed to ensure McGregor’s enforced absence was not, domestically at least, costly.

“Mooy’s impressive performances at the World Cup for Australia served notice of the depth of cover and ability built by the boss in that midfield area and Sead Haksabanovic also proved a handy No.10 through the period.”

Sutton, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “It was the same in wide areas and in attack. Chopping and changing to good effect. Defensively, though, it’s not been as seamless. Gaps have appeared. Starfelt has been a bigger miss than some people think.

BY THE RIGHT…Cameron Carter-Vickers takes care of business.

“The Swedish international built a rock-solid partnership alongside Cameron Carter-Vickers last season. In his absence and with Carter-Vickers also missing games due to injury prior to the World Cup, Postecoglou has turned to Stephen Welsh and Moritz Jenz.

“Those switches haven’t been quite as smooth. Last season, Postecoglou’s men won the title having lost just 22 goals in their 38 top-flight games. They’ve lost 13 in 15 already this term.

“Interestingly, in the period between the Swede getting injured against Rangers at the start of September and returning for the league match at Fir Park over two months later, Postecoglou’s team lost 10 goals in seven outings before he was back in the two games prior to Qatar against Motherwell and Ross County.

“Celtic’s brilliant attacking play has meant they’ve been able to overcome concessions. Losing three goals at Tynecastle or two at home to Dundee United, for example, didn’t cost them points due to explosive firepower at the other end.

“Postecoglou sets up to outscore teams, but he’ll know it’s not always going to flow and you need to be solid to be winning trophies. For all their attacking brilliance last term, success was built firstly on the solidity.

THE THINKER…Ange Postecoglou strikes a thoughtful pose s he watches the action at Parkhead.

“Starfelt was a key to that. Carter-Vickers has been immense in his 16 months at Celtic and proved at the World Cup in his one outing that he is top drawer. But he needs a solid partner. As Starfelt was last season.”

Sutton added: “Postecoglou has, of course, signed Yuki Kobayahsi for central defence.

“First impressions suggest the Japanese kid might be afforded time to settle without being plunged in, but that’s not a given. Look at Hatate and Daizen Maeda last season.

“Postecoglou had no qualms about plunging them straight into it after signing them from the J-League in January and that worked a treat.

“Restoring that rock-solid defensive side of it is now the final thing for the boss to secure. And having Starfelt back can be crucial to that process.”

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