The chance to pick up the first trophy of the season may be just over a week away but Ange Postecoglou wasn’t entertaining any talk of the League Cup Final until after Saturday’s Scottish Premiership clash with Aberdeen.
The trophy was the first one that Ange picked up on his way to a debut season double last time out but the manager isn’t one to spend much time dwelling on the past, nor to look too far into the future.
Speaking to the media this afternoon he stressed the dangers of looking any further ahead than the next fixture.
“You can’t have a mind on the final when you’ve got a game tomorrow. Our most important game is the one tomorrow.
We’ve got to get three points and continue our strong league form.
Post break we’ve been really good, really strong, stronger than we were in the first part of the year and we want to continue that and our focus is totally on Aberdeen.”
Ange was also asked for his thoughts on next month’s Scottish Cup quarter final with Hearts. A game which is over three weeks away.
I’ll leave you to work out just how short his response was to that.
Focussing On The Next Fixture
Last week we heard Assistant manager John Kennedy and Greg Taylor stress that the group only focus on the game at hand, and that same sentiment was echoed by Ange and Cameron Carter-Vickers when speaking to the media today.
Make no mistake about it. This Celtic side are laser focussed, determined and ruthless and it’s going to take something special to knock them out their stride.
A twenty-two game unbeaten streak since the loss to St Mirren in mid-September tells you just how driven the group are.
Even more recently the form since the World Cup break has been formidable. Twelve wins out of thirteen (the other a draw against Rangers) and an incredible forty goals scored in the process.
Celtic v Aberdeen
The Dons halted a five game losing streak with a 3-1 win over Motherwell last time out and interim boss Barry Robson will be looking to follow that up with a positive result against his former employers.
Robson was a hugely popular figure at Celtic Park for his contributions during his two year spell at the club but sentimentality will go out the window tomorrow as Postecoglou and his players roll their sleeves up as we head into the business end of the season.
This Aberdeen side contains a number of talented players including forwards Bojan Miovski and Duk, who’ve both had good season’s personally despite their club’s patchy form.
Former stalwart Graeme Shinnie has also returned to the club (on loan from Wigan), taking the captain’s armband for their last two outings.
Conceding goals however remains a huge concern and no side in the division has lost more goals than the forty-seven that Aberdeen have.
On that note the last person they’ll want to come up against is the league’s top scorer, but unfortunately for them it looks likely that Kyogo will once again lead the line for the Hoops.
The biggest concern amongst the support this week has been the fitness and availability of the talismanic striker following his early departure from the St Mirren game with a shoulder issue.
However Ange was quick to put any such fears to rest.
“Kyogo’s fine. He trained today, had a session yesterday and he’s good to go.
He missed a session (early in the week) to get some treatment on it but he’s trained last two days so no issues.”
With twenty-two goals across all competitions Ange will be glad to have his top marksman to call upon and the striker himself looks capable of scoring every time he takes to the field at the moment.
He’s got a way to go to catch Man City’s Erling Haaland in the race for European Football’s Golden Boot, but currently in 7th place he’ll take personal pride in his quest to climb that particular chart.
His squad of course has been boosted in general by the arrival of four new players during the January window.
He hailed the meaningful contribution that Alistair Johnston has already made, and is pleased that Oh has also managed to pick up some valuable minutes recently.
Moving forward he’s also convinced that Yuki Kobayashi and Tomoki Iwata will play their part over the remainder of the season.
“They’ve all fitted in really well which is the important thing.
Tomiko (Iwata) and Yuki Kobayashi are training really well. I haven’t really got them the game-time at the moment but I’ve got no doubt they’ll play significant game time between now and the end of the year the way they’re training.
They’re in good physical condition which means if they get the opportunity they’ll be ready to go.”
Celtic’s back four has remained unchanged in the last four fixtures and Alistair Johnston, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Carl Starfelt and Greg Taylor look set to once again line up in front of Joe Hart in goal.
The big dilemma for Ange is in midfield and specifically who’ll get the nod alongside Callum McGregor and Reo Hatate in the midfield.
Aaron Mooy is the man of the moment, but Matt O’Riley also showed what he’s capable of in his goal scoring appearance against St Mirren last week and has given the manager something to think about.
It’s a nice problem for the manager to have.
Across the front three the fit again Kyogo will likely be flanked by any two from Jota, Maeda, Abada and Haksabanovic with Oh likely to make an appearance later in the game.
The frontline have been responsible for sixty-eight of Celtic’s one hundred and two goals across the campaign so far but it’s not just his forward’s that Ange is pleased with at the moment.
“I just think our football’s better than it was at the start of the year. We’re a lot more controlled in games.
As much as we’re scoring a lot of goals we’re really minimising the opposition’s threat against us.
That’s probably been the bigger change since the break.
Our pressing and counter pressing has been really on mark and that’s allowed us that framework to go on and score goals.”
With last week’s 5-1 win against St Mirren the fourteenth time Ange’s side have scored four goals or more in a game this season there looks a high probability that we’ll do so again tomorrow.
However, we’ll take Ange’s lead in terms of not getting carried away.
The three points, first and foremost is the most important thing.
Then – and only then – we can all look forward to next week’s Cup Final.
Enjoy all the big match build up now with The Celtic Exchange’s Pre Match Podcast.