This season, Newco present the greatest domestic test to Celtic since Aberdeen in season 2014-15. More significantly, their results in Europe defined expectations. Having eliminated Young Boys and Feyenoord, they are in the Europa League knock out stage.
This would be a dream season for them were it not for their two defeats to Celtic: one at Ibrox in the league, the other this month’s League Cup Final defeat at Hampden. There is a reason for that.
Celtic are an exceptional team. Better than Porto, who topped Newco’s Europa League group, better Young Boys and Feyenoord. I can think of only two regrettable moments in our season so far (Scott Brown’s handball against Cluj and Ryan Chistie’s lunge against Livingston).
Tomorrow we get the chance to beat them at a third Glasgow venue of the season: Celtic Park, which, due to Newco’s inability to deal with celebrating visiting Celtic fans, will have 59,000 Celtic fans and around 700 visitors. Newco believe, having drawn in a half-empty stadium in Oporto and away to a weak team in Rotterdam, they can cope on the road. They will find Celtic Park is a virulently hostile an environment.
Like most of you, I hope to see Mikey Johnston on the left, James Forrest on the right and Ryan Christie in the No. 10 role, but Neil Lennon has shown no inclination of picking this formation, which would leave Olivier Ntcham on the bench.
This morning, I watched our Ibrox win in September. Olivier was exceptional throughout, as he was the first time these teams met last season. If he is in the 10 role, we have nothing to fear. The full back positions are crucial. Newco flourished on their right wing in particular at Hampden, If Boli Bolingoli and either Forrest or Johnston dominate that side of the field, the entire flow of the game will be different.
The greatest risk tomorrow is from a red card, but we have experience all over the field, even Jeremie Frimpong has some lessons under his belt.
Odsonne Edouard terrifies them. They cannot tackle him, cannot shove him off the ball, and after Hampden, they will even be reluctant to kick him. I expect Odsonne to be as calm and devastating as usual. Look out for a late cameo. Leigh Griffiths endured a torrid 2019. He has scored three times this calendar year, in games Celtic scored 5, 7 and 5 goals respectively. The script is written for a rejuvenating end to the year for the player.