Wednesday felt like a pivotal night for Celtic.
Though we fell just short of that elusive Champions League win the signs are there that we’re making steady progress under Brendan Rodgers and that we’ll continue to see further progress both at home and in Europe.
The players involved against Atletico Madrid will have thrived from the experience of going toe to toe with the Spaniards and all will be better for it as they each continue their own development under the manager.
All except the unfortunate Reo Hatate.
The talented midfielder suffered an injury to his hamstring almost immediately after kick off and though he bravely tried to continue he was forced to make way for Paulo Bernardo.
It’s further frustration for the 25 year old who’s already had some early season injury issues to contend with, with Brendan Rodgers confirming today (Friday) that he’ll “definitely be out for a few weeks”.
With some big games in store – including our remaining three games in Champions League Group E – it’s a bitter blow to the player as well as his manager and the first priority will be a swift return to the first team.
His absence however presents an opportunity to Celtic’s other central midfielders – of which there are plenty – and Rodgers now has an interesting call to make ahead of Saturday’s clash with Hibs at Easter Road.
So who will join Callum McGregor and Matt O’Riley in tomorrow’s midfield three?
Given that he stepped in for Hatate on Wednesday night the Portuguese may seem like the obvious choice.
Unusually the U21 cap has played more games in the Champions League than domestically for Celtic since his loan arrival from Benfica (3 v 2) and it remains to be seen if Rodgers will balance up that stat tomorrow by giving him his first start for the club.
He deputised well for Hatate against Atletico though understandably faded as the game wore on. If he’s recovered in time he may well be the favourite for the role.
The man who kept Hatate out of the side in the opening games of the campaign, Turnbull has found himself relegated to the bench in recent weeks and last started a game back on 16th September (v Dundee).
He’s a player than the manager spoke well of during those opening fixtures and he’s chipped in with three goals in six league appearances so far (two from the penalty spot) but who once again finds himself on the fringes of the first team.
Now in the final year of his current deal the Scotland midfielder finds himself approaching a cross-roads in his Celtic career and will be desperate for another opportunity to prove his worth at Easter Road.
The Japanese powerhouse garbed his first goal in the Hoops less than a week ago at Tynecastle and will still be on a high at opening his account.
When given a chance in Celtic’s midfield he’s rarely let us down, but unfortunately for him those opportunities have been few and far between.
Should he start against Hibs it would likely result in Callum McGregor being asked to play a more advanced role and it remains to be seen whether that’s something the manager favours.
If put on the spot this is the change I would like to see tomorrow.
Odin Thiago Holm
The big outsider of the four options outlined, Thiago Holm hasn’t even made the squad in our two most recent fixtures.
Since seeing red against Feyenoord on Matchday 1 of our Champions league campaign the young Norwegian has been limited to just six minutes of action (v Kilmarnock, 7th October) which is a surprise given a fairly bright start to life at Celtic.
It would seem out of character that Brendan Rodgers is “punishing” the player for his error of judgement in Rotterdam, though he may just be managing him accordingly.
It’s expected we’ll see plenty more of the talented 20 year old in the months ahead, but it’s unlikely to be tomorrow and he may just have to play the waiting game that bit longer.
The fact that Celtic’s starting eleven – let alone the midfield three – has been so settled can be viewed both positively and negatively.
The positive is that the guys with the shirts at present have clearly earned them and players such as Matt O’Riley, Luis Palma and Liam Scales continue to perform at a high level.
The downside is that it may indicate a lack of genuine competition in certain key areas.
Is there a viable alternative to Kyogo in the central striking role at this time?
Is Greg Taylor being pushed in any way by any of his colleagues or is that left back slot his own until someone else is brought in?
These are different questions for a different day.
Meanwhile we’ll get a chance in less than 24 hours’ time to see just how reliable our backup midfield options can be.
Tune in to The Countdown To Kick-Off now as we preview Wednesday’s all important Champions League tie.
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