Having failed to make the squad for six of Celtic’s last seven games, Alexandro Bernabei was a surprise inclusion in the line-up to face Hearts as he made his first appearance since the Scottish Cup tie with Morton on 21st January.
Ange Postecoglou reported that regular left-back Greg Taylor had “pulled up sore” after the St Mirren game but reported that he “should be fine” for Saturday’s trip to Tynecastle.
£3.75M summer signing Bernabei would therefore be making just his 10th start for the club as he took his place in a changed back four with Tony Ralston also coming in on the right hand side.
Prior to the Hearts game Celtic had opted for the same backline of Alistair Johnston, Cameron carter-Vickers, Carl Starfelt and Greg Taylor for seven consecutive games.
Hearts are amongst the toughest sides that Celtic will face domestically, so how did the young Argentine perform against Robbie Neilson’s men?
FIRST HALF FORTUNE
For the second game in succession Celtic found themselves a goal down after just 6 minutes and it’s fair to say that the side were disjointed in general during the early exchanges.
The steadily found their feet though and soon found themselves dominating possession, as is so often the case at Celtic Park.
As is the way in Ange Postecoglou’s system the full-backs find themselves with plenty of the ball, and last night was no different.
Across the first half Bernabei’s use of the ball was perhaps as you might expect for a player making his first start in over six weeks however, and some slack passing brought some groans from the home crowd.
In addition an attempted nutmeg around 30 yards from goal is never recommended but perhaps that was a case of old habits dying hard for a player who was initially deployed as a left winger in his youth.
Shortly after Celtic’s equaliser he was then involved in a flashpoint as he caught Hearts’ defender Nathanial Atkinson above the ankle with a mis-timed tackle.
Despite calls for a red card, a subsequent VAR check by Nick Walsh confirmed that no further action should be taken.
It was the right call, but the 22 year old was perhaps fortunate to escape without punishment of any sort after going to ground unnecessarily as he tried to recover the ball.
SECOND HALF SUCCESS
The second half was much better all round from Celtic, and Bernabei himself played his part in the improved performance.
Hearts have rightfully received plaudits for what they brought to the contest, but despite showing themselves more than capable of retaining possession in tight areas they frequently chose to mix this up with high balls into Bernabei’s left back area.
Despite standing the same 5 foot and 7 inches tall as fellow left back Taylor, he coped admirably with the aerial threat and seemed to find more confidence as the game wore on.
Following Kyogo’s 25th goal of the season, and with the game entering a crucial stage it was Bernabei who found a dangerous pocket of space deep in the Hearts half where the ever alert Reo Hatate found him with a smart pass.
Bernabei took a touch to bring the ball under control before flicking it forward to Sead Haksabanovic who then worked his magic to end the game as a contest.
If we’re being really honest the Montenegrin does most of the heavy lifting for this one, but the stats will show a Bernabei assist – his third in the Hoops – and that’ll do his confidence the world of good.
As the game nudged into the closing stages he showed that left wing flair once again, lifting the ball over the head of Atkinson with a delightful piece of skill before drilling a dangerous ball across the face of goal for what should have been a fourth Celtic goal on the night.
Overall it won’t go down as the best 90 minutes of his young career, but he more than played his part in what was a very important three points for the Bhoys.
Alexandro Bernabei isn’t the finished article – very few 22 year olds are – but what he has shown is the potential to play a notable part in the side that Ange Postecoglou is building.
Greg Taylor remains firmly the first choice left back for now, and rightly so given the improvements he himself has made to his overall game.
We know how important healthy competition can be within this squad, though so far it’s been lacking in the left back area.
That’s why it’s so promising to see the young Argentine finally start to chap that door after a slow start to life at Celtic – on the park at least!
Off it, Bernabei has recently become a father and took the opportunity after last night’s game to post a picture of himself and his new-born baby on the Celtic Park turf.
Wearing matching Hoops shorts the picture was accompanied by the caption, “Welcome to Paradise daughter”.
A proud moment for a young man looking to make a new life for himself here in Scotland, and overall he can be pleased with a good night’s work.
Enjoy our Post Match Reaction Podcast following last night’s game on The Celtic Exchange Plus.
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