The phrase ‘dead rubber’ has been thrown around regarding Thursday’s game again Real Betis at Celtic Park. In many ways that is true. Even a victory would leave Postecoglou’s men one point behind the Spaniards in third place. The question for the manager then is; Should you rest players for a game with little at stake, especially with a key game around the corner?
On one hand resting players would be a sensible option for the gaffer. Postecoglou went into Sunday’s game against Dundee Utd without several injured players; Welsh, who had been covering for Starfelt, who in turn made his return, had been performing well. Ralston in many ways has been the story of the season and easily the most improved player at Parkhead. Jota, who has become something of a talisman with his recent displays. Add to this, the long term injury to Chris Jullien and James Forrest back, but not at full fitness, and the big Aussie doesn’t have his problems to seek.
Despite this, Celtic entered probably their best performance of the season. Completely dominating a decent United side, the team looked as resilient in defence as they were dangerous in attack. Tom Rogic scored an incredible goal. Some may say it was Messi-esque. Some may say it was more like the Argentinians favourite player, Paddy McCourt. Either way it was a special goal amongst a special performance. Given how light the squad is though, risk of injury in a high intensity game against Betis may be too high a price to pay for putting out a strong team on Thursday night.
There is also the argument that Postecoglou has said he wants players to be resilient enough to play high tempo football as many times a week as is necessary and he may not want to disrupt the momentum the team has been building in recent weeks. Players thrive on victory and performances like Sundays will mean they will be chomping at the bit to keep the run going.
Another concern with playing a ‘weakened’ side is that, despite the group tables positions being set, there are still things to play for. Each group stage win in the Europa League is worth €630,000 (£535,000), which is much more attractive than the €210,000 (£178,000) earned for a draw. Celtic, and the hierarchy specifically, will not want to lose out on another potential income stream. There are also co-efficient points at stake which, depending on how the season ends, could be very important to European aspirations moving forward. Last, but by no means least, are the fans who have paid their hard earned cash to attend the game. They deserve a performance, they deserve to be entertained. Something Ange Postecoglou is all too aware of.
Not quite as simple as a ‘dead rubber’ after all, and to complicate matters worse, Celtic have a key return to domestic competition when they face Motherwell on Sunday.
While it may be cliche to say, ‘all league games are important’ that is definitely an appropriate take on this run of fixtures. Momentum and consistency have been key for Celtic in recent weeks, with a run of hard fixtures leading up to a Cup Final against His on the 19th and a massive Glasgow Derby on the 2nd Jan. There is four points separating first and second place in the SPFL at the moment, meaning there is no room for error before the men in green and white get the chance to take the leaders lead to one point with (fingers crossed) a victory in Jan. It’s almost unthinkable to drop any points before and including that game.
Motherwell have been performing well this season with Tony Watt, who Celtic fans will remember from that historic goal against Barcelona, in form and looking dangerous. Fir Park has often been ‘sticky’ for the green half of Glasgow, one has just to recall the infamous ‘Helicopter Sunday’ if there is any doubt, so full focus has to be on this game. Which brings us back to our initial question; Should Postecoglou rest players?
The answer is most likely that there must be a balance. Wholesale changes may protect the first team regulars from fatigue, but a confidence destroying loss at home would be far from ideal ahead of domestic duties. A few choice changes, McGregor, Kyogo and Rogic could do with some rest, while some fringe players, Scales, McCarthy and Montgomery, could all use game time. This balance could be enough to score a morale boosting win against a strong Spanish team at a packed Parkhead, something that Celtic’s players could ride out until the years end. IA tough choice awaits, and to paraphrase a famous Celt; It is never easy to be Celtic manager, but it is always worthwhile.