Notwithstanding the possibility of further setbacks from tonight’s international games, or from commercial flights back to Glasgow, the core of Neil Lennon’s team for Saturday looks stable.
Assuming Christopher Jullien is fit, he will play alongside Shane Duffy and Kristoffer Ajer, with Vasilis Barkas in goal. The central metronome of the team: Callum McGregor and Scott Brown, will be in-situ, Jeremie Frimpong and debutant Diego Laxalt will occupy the wingback roles.
That leaves three places for the manager to fill. Albian Ajeti is now beyond his expected recuperation period and should be ready for 90 minutes, but Neil will be mindful of how his decision to throw a recuperating Mohamed Elyounoussi into December’s League Cup Final backfired. Moi was a passenger at Hampden and Celtic did not spark until after he was replaced. Albian plays a different role and I expect he will get the nod.
That leaves two slots to fill, a forward and an attacking mid.
Odsonne Edouard’s health will be assessed when he arrives in the country less than 24 hours before kick-off. It is a lot to ask of a player to start under these circumstances, but he persistently terrifies the Newco defence. If he has remained asymptomatic throughout it is likely we will see him at some point.
I would start Leigh Griffiths in a heartbeat. He has experience performing in and winning these fixtures. His attitude is perfect for them and he is a born goal-scorer; for years, the sugar in our tea. Patryk Klimala will be full of confidence after his remarkable recovery and goal in Perth last time out. I doubt he will start but he is a striker – just think back to the aforementioned League Cup Final, when Lewis Morgan started up front. That really was an understrength Celtic team.
Ryan Christie would fill the attacking mid role, were he not excluded while healthy, but this is one position Neil is drowning in options for. Olivier Ntcham is most likely to get the start, but Elyounoussi, David Turnbull and Tom Rogic are all more than capable, although I would hold Tom for a late goal-scoring cameo.
It is understandable that news of pandemic exclusions are alarming, but frankly, I don’t know what anyone is worried about. The script is written for this one.