I see Ange getting a bit of grief for making the wrong substitutions in Leverkusen last night. His first decision, on 72 minutes, was to swap James Forrest and Jota for Liel Abada and Mikey Johnston. Four minutes later, he hooked Nir Bitton and Kyogo for James McCarthy and Albian Ajeti. There were mitigating factors.
That 72 minutes was James’ longest outing in 14 weeks. His race was run and keeping the player on would only have led to different negative events.
Until this point in the game there were several potential man of the match candidates, all of them in Celtic colours, but mine was unequivocally Nir Bitton. He had a knack of making the important interception around the edge of the box. Composed in possession, he carried the ball out of the Celtic defensive third and brought others into play. Of course, he also made the lung-bursting run to support the break that resulted in Jota’s goal.
Losing Nir was in itself the major change to affect Celtic’s play, but he was injured, as with James, there was no decision to be made.
Callum McGregor was moved back to the 6 position when James McCarthy replaced Bitton. It didn’t work, but even with this knowledge, is anyone offering an alternative suggestion? In the circumstances, it was the right decision.
Liel Abada is not known for his defensive duties. He is a player with huge potential who I suspect is more of a striker than winger and who has already delivered for us in his short time at the club. Granted, he is not an ideal sub to take on when you need to defend a lead away from home in Europe, but the alternative would be to break and remould the team shape – something that feels OK for the final few minutes when you can hoof the ball forward, but not for longer.
Like you, I think Kyogo can do anything and everything, I see no limits to his energy or abilities. No player has reminded me of the Great Swede as much in the last 17 years, he too seemed to be physically without limits. This faith is possibly overstated.
While I am burdening our current talent with unhelpful comparisons, Jota’s impact on Celtic is comparable to that of Scott Sinclair, when he arrived in 2016. Two transformational players who lifted Celtic to a level higher.
Ange is not a man who lives in the moment. He knows the stamina levels of Kyogo and Jota. He also knows what he wants from the players on Sunday. Yesterday I wrote that our priority was the forthcoming Aberdeen game. If you are not ruthless to the plan, do not bother planning at all. Be in no doubt, Jota and Kyogo were substituted to give them every chance of performing fully on Sunday. I like a manager who is strong enough to make difficult decisions like this, as do you, really.
The material change on the game was the injury to Nit Bitton, without which, there is a chance we would have won the game. Everything else is just noise, a distraction from what actually happened. Nir’s injury was not the only reason we lost last night, but the substitutions, if not right, were not entirely wrong.
Our thoughts to Bertie Auld’s family and friends as they gather to say goodbye to his mortal remains today. The rest of us have many memories of Bertie, those are immortal. What a gift he was.