Celtic team v Rangers: Hint of key role for Japanese star at Ibrox

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it seems an apt sentiment when considering the starting XI that Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou could select for Sunday’s pivotal derby at Ibrox.

The cinch Premiership leaders sport a settled look, in contrast to his Rangers counterpart Giovanni van Bronckhorst. As a result the Australian doesn’t need to fry his braincells pondering his picks. Even if the encounter has an importance to it beyond any other faced by the 56-year-old since arriving in Scotland last June. No one will need tell him that victory in the fixture, which would put a telling six points between his team and their title rivals, would make Celtic difficult to dislodge from the league summit with only six games remaining.

A draw wouldn’t even be the worst result, but it can be rest assured that Postecoglou will send out his team to go for the jugular. The personnel to do that could well be the same XI that dismantled Ross County 4-0 a fortnight ago once Tom Rogic had been forced off injured. The health status of the playmaker - subsequently forced to withdraw from the Australia squad - is currently unknown. However, that may be a largely moot point with Matt O’Riley having deputised for him with distinction. That was also true of Celtic’s 3-0 thumping of the Ibrox men in the east end of Glasgow six weeks ago, where he formed a central three with Callum McGregor and Reo Hatate. There is no requirement to deviate from that trio, even if David Turnbull made his comeback from three months sidelined with a hamstring injury late on against the Highlanders. For Kyogo Furuhashi though, the match is expected to come too soon.

The interesting switch up that was witnessed a fortnight ago as Giorgos Giakmoumakis bagged a second hat-trick in as many home appearances at Celtic Park - to take his tally for the season to 12 goals, 11 since the new year restart - was Jota playing off the right wing, as Daizen Maeda operated on the left ordinarily patrolled by the Benfica loanee.

Daizen Maeda could be part of Celtic's plan to shackle Rangers' full-back James Tavernier. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

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Maybe it is fanciful to consider that Postecoglou was thinking ahead to his team’s assignment at Ibrox in configuring his wide men in such fashion but that set-up could be significant where Sunday is concerned. Japanese attacker Maeda possesses incredible stamina - he has said previously that his athleticism is one of his key strengths - and it allows him to constantly work up and down his flank. That flank just happens to be where James Tavernier will look to drift forward to provide the crossfield deliveries that make the Rangers captain his team’s most potent creator. Maeda, while being expected to provide balls into the box for the predatory Giakoumakis, has the engine to combine that with clamping himself to Tavernier.

That could be significant with Postecoglou, who will most likely set-up Celtic in a 4-3-3 shape, surely mindful his team have conceded the most number of goals from crosses - 13 - in the entire top flight. An unwanted distinction they share with Hibs. Yet, that they have conceded fewest overall - 18 - won’t have him doubting a back four comprising Josip Juranovic on the right, growing in stature central defensive pair Cameron Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt, and Greg Taylor on the left, with Joe Hart in goal. Carter-Vickers and Starfelt are crucial to initiating Celtic attacks through their ball carrying and pass-picking from deep and their manager will be convinced that strategy will gain them the control required as they seek a first win for Celtic at a ground where the club are on a four-game losing sequence.

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