The Decemberists

Tomorrow’s Glasgow Derby will be Celtic’s 9th and final fixture of a punishing December schedule that has seen the Hoops extend their lead at the Scottish Premiership summit, qualify from Europa League Group E as winners, and emerge victorious from the BetFred Cup Final against Rangers.

All in all, Celtic have won 7 of their 8 December fixtures, with the only loss coming in the Europa League dead rubber away to Cluj where a second-string side fell to a 2-0 reverse.

Otherwise, Celtic’s performances this month have been relentless and consistently efficient.  The winning margin in four of Celtic’s December wins may have been by a single goal, but it is this single-minded determination not to lose that has been synonymous with the Hoops since Neil Lennon’s return to the helm.

Possession wise and in terms of chances created, Celtic have continued to dominate their opponents throughout the month, and while not always being as ruthless in front of goal as earlier in the season, the knack of scoring big goals at the right time has remained a constant – see Scott Brown’s winner against Hamilton moments after conceding a 90th-minute leveller; Edouard’s winner against Aberdeen when frustration was creeping in; Julien’s winner in the Cup Final after a backs-to-the-wall opening hour.

Where Brendon Rodgers brought a sophisticated passing style to the club, Lennon has added grit and determination, and an innate ability to not know when they are beaten.

With such driven personalities like Brown, McGregor, Ajer, and Julien making up the nucleus of the team, it is little wonder why Lennon’s Celtic continue to flourish as they do.

Throughout the harsh December schedule, a key core group of players has come to the fore.  Kris Ajer has featured in all 8 games (the only player to do so), with a group of 7 players including Brown, McGregor, and Forster playing in 7 games.  Also included in that group of players in young full-back Jeremie Frimpong, whose rapid rise to first-choice right-back has called into question the future of loanee Moritz Bauer, and, somewhat surprisingly, Leigh Griffiths. Griffiths appearances have, however, been limited to cameos off the bench, totalling a mere 151 minutes of playing time.

Other notable contributors over the past month include Ryan Christie, whose 4 goals mark him out as Celtic’s leading marksman in December, Cup Final hero Christopher Julien, and Odsonne Edouard whose contribution over his 5 December appearances has been worth so much more the sum of his two goals.

Despite the apparent reliance on the above cohort of players, the depth of Celtic’s squad means that Lennon still has an element of freshness that he can call on for tomorrow’s Glasgow Derby.

Young Mikey Johnston, who has recently signed a new long-term contract, has started just one of the last 8 games (despite making 6 appearances in total) offers Lennon a dynamic and natural left-sided option in attack.  His inclusion in the starting line-up could open up the potential for James Forrest to return to the right with Christie taking up his favoured number 10 role.

Staying on the left, Bolingoli, who has recently returned from injury to the starting line-up, provides more width and attacking threat than that offered by Cup Final left-back and Mr Dependable Johnny Hayes.

And, while he may have started four of the last five games, Edouard, so often the scourge of Rangers, has not completed a full 90 minutes yet this month; Lennon instead choosing to keep his main frontman fresh, perhaps with this game in mind.

With the usual core of Ajer and Julien at the back, Brown and McGregor in midfield, and Forrest, Christie, and Edouard in attack Celtic will be confident of further derby success.

Tomorrow afternoon, in front of a packed Celtic Park, Lennon will ask his Bhoys for one last push, one last big performance for 2019, and three vital points in the hunt for 9-in-a-row.

Here’s a potential line-up for tomorrow.  Who would you go with?

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