Hallelujah! The mundane international break is over and the real football is back against this weekend.
And there’s no better way to return to club football than the Glasgow Derby followed by a Champions League trip to face FC Barcelona.
There are big questions ahead of these two games surrounding personnel selections and what formation will be used. Celtic’s transfer activity, or lack of it, to get another striker suggests Brendan Rodgers will start with one up front and alternate between a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 or a 4-5-1 formation, depending on the opposition.
Of course, the later will only be used in the Champions League to keep things tight and give Celtic a chance in the game. The only time we will see two up front will be due to a tactical change during a game or against lower league opposition in the cup competitions.
Against Rangers this weekend in the Glasgow Derby, Rodgers will likely play a similar side to the one that faced Celtic’s nearest challengers, Aberdeen, prior to the international break. The only change could come in midfield, as Tom Rogic played two international games in Perth and Abu Dhabi over the break and also racked up 30 hours in flight time, which could leave the Aussie jetlagged.
Three other positions that are currently up for grabs are between the posts, at right-back and the right side of midfield. Last season’s outright starter and one of Rodgers’ five new signings contest the first two positions, and I guess you could say the same about the third.
Dorus de Vries suits Rodgers style of play – which is why he was bought in the first place. Craig Gordon has held the position for over two years and has vowed to keep fighting for it, but the signing of a player Rodgers worked with at Swansea City will surely see the end to Gordon’s starting role in the team. He’s still a competent ‘keeper, but isn’t comfortable with the ball at his feet and is susceptible to conceding at his near post.
At right-back, Mikael Lustig is another player who will soon be replaced by a summer signing. Cristian Gamboa is another player who suits the Rodgers mould. He is pacey, very aggressive and an attacking full-back which is very different to the composed and controlled Swede, who will provide back up to Gamboa sooner or later as well as in the centre of defence, where he has looked much better.
His ability to play with the ball at his feet from defence was useful for Celtic when they played in a hybrid 4-4-2/3-5-2 system, before Scott Sinclair arrived and could become a more permanent position for him.
On current form, the right wing position is James Forrest’s to lose, but with a player like Patrick Roberts in the Celtic ranks, you never know what could happen. Forrest has been like a new signing under Rodgers, scoring in all three league games so far, and has taken advantage of Roberts’ period on the sidelines with a hamstring injury.
His years of experience and positional awareness to both attack and defend probably gives him the edge over Roberts, who is still learning and adjusting to the defensive side of the game as a winger.
Rodgers will almost certainly start with a back five against Barcelona and use the flanks to get crosses into the box rather than try play football at the Camp Nou. It just won’t work. Then it’s a matter of what four in midfield will start behind Leigh Griffiths.
Rodgers has plenty of personnel at his disposal in defence and midfield; it’s all about getting the right combination for the needs of the game. Barcelona, like Manchester City, will require plenty of runners to hunt down the ball and close the space both sides will create with their world-class players.
It worked before in 2012 against Barcelona with a Celtic side at their peak, but will Rodgers be able to get the best from a side that has showed in the past they can’t handle the European pressure? Only time will tell.
For now, the focus is on Saturday afternoon and the first Glasgow Derby of the season. Let’s just hope a few idiots don’t spoil the affair and the reporting can stick to events that happen on the field.