Last month Efe Ambrose and Saidy Janko played in what will be some of the biggest games of our season. It didn’t go well. Saidy has since moved out on loan, while Efe is behind Toure, Sviatchenko, Simunovic, O’Connell, Boyata and (maybe) Lustig for a place in central defence.
From that list, Simunovic and Boyata are unlikely to be ready for the Camp Nou, but O’Connell will be no less prepared than John Kennedy was 12 years ago when he deputised for suspended Bobo Balde at the same location. Central defence has gone from being our weakest department to our strongest in a matter of weeks.
My expectation is that Brendan will play Toure, Sviatchenko and Lustig as a back three, with Kieran Tierney and Cristian Gamboa as full backs. That will be a leap of faith for Cristian, who, only five days from Barcelona, has yet to even train with the club. He’ll arrive in Glasgow today after last night’s national team game in Costa Rica.
Despite this schedule, we should look to give Cristian some game time on Saturday, I’d be reluctant to throw him into the Camp Nou cold. This would allow us to rest Mikael Lustig, who played for Sweden on Tuesday, and who will need to be at the top of his game for Barcelona.
Another player who could do with a rest on Saturday is Tom Rogic. Tom has played in Australia and the UAE since we last saw him, eclipsing whatever jetlag Cristian will go through. I’m not sure Brendan will see it the same way, as an offensive midfielder like Tom may be sacrificed for a more defensive player at the Camp Nou. We’ll touch on how to attack later.
I watched Israel-Italy on Monday. Nir Bitton did well against a superior team; it was a good run-through for the Champions League, as he will be asked to play a similar, tactically disciplined, role for Celtic. As the game was Monday, I don’t think he’ll need a rest at the weekend, although we should perhaps consider giving him around 60 minutes.
Football’s a squad game, let’s remember that this week. It’s been nearly three years since we’ve been to the Camp Nou, these occasions don’t come round often, so we need to prepare properly.