From Messi to Nessy
It's a big ask this weekend early in his managerial career, but Brendan Rodgers takes his domestically all conquering Bhoys North to face Richie's rookies at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium in a 3:00pm kick off on Sunday.
Celtic are going from Messi to Nessy in the space of five days. They will find it easier in Nessy. It took Lionel just three minutes to breach the Celtic defence in Barcelona. He did it again before the half hour was up and had a hat-trick before the hour. Could it be that Celtic struggle against teams in red and blue stripes? We're no Barcelona but stranger things happen at sea.
Celtic have been in great form in the domestic League and topped it off by trouncing the Rangers 5-1 last week before heading to Barcelona in the Champions league. Fifteen goals in four games is testament to their attacking intent and new striker Moussa Dembele looks like a class act.
So, who are the people that have transformed Celtic? For a start, they have replaced the much maligned Ronnie Deila and John Collins with the well respected Brendan Rodgers and Chris Davies. Their player signings are a who's who in the wish lists of most football clubs outside the English Premiership. Scott Sinclair is an attacking wide midfielder and already has five goals. Moussa Dembele has just scored a hat-trick coming in from Fulham and seven goals in total. When you add these to Scotlands star striker Leigh Griffiths (7 goals) and wide player Patrick Roberts, it's not difficult to see why Celtic are banging in the goals. Defensively, Kolo Toure joins from Liverpool, Christian Gamboa from West Brom, keeper Dorus de Vries to challenge Scotland International Craig Gordon and midfielder Kristoffer Ajer to the engine room. The Brendan Rodgers clear out was ruthless and swift. The main departures were Scotland full back Charlie Mulgrew, Athony Stokes, Mr clumsy-Colin Kazim-Richards, Stefan Scepovic, Scott Allan and Carlton Cole There is a raft of others who are littered across the Scottish lower leagues, enough to make a couple of teams to be honest, but Rodgers looks to have built a squad based on quality rather that quantity which was enough to see Celtic lift the title last season, but not with the panache their fans wanted to see.
Richie has had a steep learning curve in the Premiership games hitting rock bottom after three before clambering off the foot of the table with a hard earned draw at Pittodrie, following on from a gritty home win over St Johnstone. The signs are encouraging after a poor start to the campaign and it's good to see we are moving in the right direction.
We will need to be at our best on Sunday and it's a tremendous boost how the team have bounced back since the 5-1 thrashing at Tynecastle. That was Josh Meekings' first game back from injury and he and Gary Warren are beginning to return to the solid partnership they forged previously. Owain Fon Williams has got rid of his Euro holiday hangover and looks more focussed and young Brad Mckay had a decent debut in a baptism of fire at Pittodrie and with Carl Tremarco claiming the left back slot our back line is taking shape nicely. The midfield should be a match for most teams and Ross Draper has never looked sharper. Luxury player Iain Vigurs showed just why he is in the team with a superb goal at Aberdeen, but can we afford his laid back style with a bit of cynicism thrown in? We were wasteful in the final third and I'm sure Richie Foran will be working on that this week. We have wide players with pace now with Aaron Doran gaining more match time and in Lonsana Doumbouya we have a powerful front man when Alex Fisher runs himself to a standstill. Aye, it's a difficult job being the Invermess target man.
Despite Celtic going down in Spain, the gulf in class between Celtic and Barcelona is as big as the gap between Celtic and the rest of the clubs in Scotland. That's how difficult this task is for Inverness. The pace of Moussa Dembele and Scott Sinclair is a worry for our back line, although Dembele's penalty kick routine is suspect. Our best hope is that one or two players are rested and Leigh Griffiths is still injured. However, their depth of squad is such that it won't make too much difference who plays.
We lost all three games against Celtic last season conceding twelve goals in those games while scoring only two. Apart from the Cup semi-final win, our last win over Celtic in the Highlands came in August 2014 when we won 1-0 thanks to an Eoghan O'Connell own goal. Celtic had made 10 changes from the side that played NK Maribor in midweek and paid the price. I wonder if they will be so lenient this time after the thrashing at Barcelona.
Richie Foran has no fresh injury worries and will have an almost full squad to pick from apart from Ryan Esson who is out with an elbow injury. I would expect a similar side to the one that performed well at Pittodrie.
Brendan Rodgers is not expected to make any drastic changes despite the sides thrashing in Barcelona. However, Leigh Griffiths is still out injured.
tm4tj Prediction:- I can't see us taking much from this game and damage limitation could be the way forward. Celtic's pace going forward is frightening but they are suspect at the back. In saying that, you have to get into those areas to be able to hurt them and that's not our strong point at the moment. Difficult to see anything other than a convincing win for Celtic but there's always the chance of a Champions League hangover. A draw would be seen as a success and that will be enough to drive us forward. I feel we might fall just short on this occasion, but the experience will stand us in good stead for games against teams of a similar calibre.