Tonight Brendan Rodgers takes his Celtic side to Ayrshire for the time this season with the visitors looking to build on their terrific start to the start to the season which has seen the Hoops drop only 2 points in the league so far; two dropped points away to Inverness that still rankles with the Hoops boss.
In the clubs previous meeting this season at Celtic Park, the Hoops ran out comfortable 6-1 winners despite going behind to a wonder goal by new Kilmarnock hitman Souleymane Coulibaly who opened the scoring on that occasion with a thumping strike from about 45yards out; coincidentally, Dorus DeVries, who was in the Celtic goal at the time has not been seen since in a Celtic jersey with Craig Gordon re-taking the #1 jersey and has now gone 5 league games without conceding.
After conceding Coulibaly’s opener in the first meeting the rest of the game was one way traffic with Dembele (x2), Forrest, Griffiths, Sinclair, and Rogic all on the score sheet as Celtic completed a straight forward demolition of Lee Clark’s men.
However, tonight’s encounter may not be as plain sailing for Champions Elect Celtic – is it too early to call them that? – as Brendan Rodgers has been at pains to stress hi disappointment at this fixture taking place on a Friday night, so soon after over half of his squad were involved in the recent Internationals over the previous weekend and midweek.
It remains to be seen whether this will impact on Rodgers team selection however the Celtic squad should be big enough and strong enough to cope, even if several players have returned fatigued or with minor knocks. Should that be the case then tonight would represent the perfect opportunity for some of the clubs talented fringe players to stake a claim for more regular action.
Kilmarnock on the other hand, while not losing anyone to injury over the International break, will be without former Rangers striker Kris Boyd for the visit of Celtic. Although not the threat he once was during his Rangers days, Boyd’s experience at leading the line will be missed by the Ayrshire men and it will be up to the likes of Coulibaly to once again carry the attacking threat to Celtic.
The home sides form has been patchy of late with goals in short supply, I’d expect the same again tonight due the solid defensive displays of Simunovic and Sviatchenko of late for Celtic. On the plus side for Kilmarnock only Celtic, Aberdeen, and Rangers – the top three – have conceded less goals over the past 5 league fixtures showing that Lee Clark’s defensive drilling of his side is paying off.
Unfortunately for the Kilmarnock defence they will be up against the threat of a combination of Dembele, Griffiths, Sinclair, Rogic, Forrest, and Roberts who have scored a combined total of 30 league goals so far this season. I wouldn’t bet against them adding to that tally tonight.
A key feature of Rodgers Celtic so far this season has been a willingness to keep the ball, recycle play and wait for the opportune moment to play the killer pass. Regardless of whether the International break results in Celtic fielding a changed team tonight or not, Celtic have already shown this season that they have great strength in depth. Players such as Armstrong, Henderson and Christie have all shown that they are capable of stepping into creative roles with no loss fluency to the team.
Whatever the team selection I’d expect Celtic to play their usual game safe in the knowledge that they have the talent upfront to put away the chances that come their way and a confidence in the backline that they should never be in a position to chase the game.
Kilmarnock, like most other Premiership teams, lack a real creative threat and therefore will find that clear cut goal scoring opportunities will be at a premium making it very difficult for them to win the match. The best they can hope for is that they can keep their recent defensive discipline and that the Celtic goal machine has a rare off day.