Celtic, despite a few impressive Premiership performances after a torrid start to the season, once again disappointed in Europe having lost to Bundesliga big boys RB Leipzig on Thursday night. The Hoops have little hope of making it to the knockouts of Europa League but must uplift their show on Sunday afternoon when they would be contesting Hearts in the Scottish League Cup semi-final fixture at Murrayfield Stadium. The reigning champions have conquered the ‘double treble’ under Brendan Rodgers, but are set to undergo a tricky test in their title defence against the West Edinburgh side.
Hearts, currently leading the Premiership standings, have already humbled Rodgers’ men at Tynecastle and would look to stretch their incredible run by causing a massive upset once again. The Parkhead chief made plenty of alterations on Thursday night through injuries and suspension but is expecting a better result in the Cup tie.
Celtic have a few significant absentees with both of their prime centre-backs Dedryck Boyata and Jozo Simunovic ruled out for the weekend tie. Boyata is suspended for the fixture whereas Simunovic was stretchered off against Leipzig on Thursday night. Skipper Scott Brown is unavailable with a calf strain, and the recent injury of Cristian Gamboa versus Leipzig is a further addition to their defensive woes.
Marvin Compper and Nir Bitton, Celtic’s forgotten men, continue to be sidelined with their long-term injury issues. Leigh Griffiths, Tom Rogic and Youssouf Mulumbu are doubtful for the Hearts game, but the fans should welcome the return of Kristoffer Ajer, Filip Benkovic and youngster Michael Johnston who were back in training sessions on Friday afternoon.
Rodgers has altered the team formation almost every week, and it would be interesting to follow how he lines the Hoops up for this crucial encounter. However, a 4-2-3-1 pattern should be favoured by the ex-Liverpool gaffer considering the availability of resources amid certain uncertainties.
Although Scott Bain has appeared in previous rounds of this Cup competition, the manager might prefer veteran Craig Gordon between the sticks for his enormous experience and ability to make a difference in such games.
Mikael Lustig, though underwhelming of late, is expected to return to his right-back role in the aftermath of Gamboa’s injury on Thursday night. The absence of Dedryck Boyata will be a massive setback as the pressure will be immense on young Jack Hendry who is likely to deputise for the Belgian international. Filip Benkovic, back in training, should reclaim his place having made it to the bench against Leipzig whereas homegrown prodigy Kieran Tierney should keep up his influence from the left.
It is difficult to replace someone of Scott Brown’s stature in midfield, and the uncertainty over Youssouf Mulumbu’s availability might see Eboue Kouassi feature in a central role once again after a decent outing versus the Bundesliga big boys. Olivier Ntcham should step up his game in the absence of key names while controlling the flow from the middle of the park.
Scotsman Ryan Christie must be utilised in an advanced midfield role if Tom Rogic fails to recover on time whereas his compatriots Callum McGregor and James Forrest are tipped to operate from wide to feed Odsonne Edouard inside the box. Forrest, meanwhile, missed the European trip through suspension but will look to continue his blistering form against the Premiership leaders.
The concerns over Leigh Griffiths has left Rodgers with Odsonne Edouard as the only outright centre-forward option. The Frenchman scored a brace versus Hibs last Saturday and must replicate a similar show to run out winners on Sunday.