Neil Lennon issues Celtic report card for new signing Diego Laxalt
Except for featuring on a winning side across four outings for the Scottish champions.Yet, the Uruguayan will be one of the first names on Neil Lennon’s team sheet for the Scottish Cup semi-final because he has been arguably the outstanding performer for Celtic across a difficult period. The left-sided defender’s tigerish style and electric pace have already led to some describing him as a natural heir to Kieran Tierney, lost to Arsenal for a £25m fee in the summer of 2019. In Thursday’s 2-2 draw away to Lille, his 13 successful tackles made for a five-year high by a player in a Europa League encounter.
Lennon steers clear of such comparisons in maintaining that Greg Taylor, the man Laxalt has displaced, will still figure in a season that sees Celtic essentially fighting on five fronts. However, he acknowledges the instant impact made by the AC Milan loanee.
“He’s been outstanding from the moment he came in the door,” said the Celtic manager. “He doesn’t speak much English, but you don’t have to tell him too much or give him too many instructions. He knows the game, he understands his position, and I felt that when I watched him over the piece he would add a lot of quality to our play. I think he’s been an excellent addition, a superb asset to the squad.
“He’s very fit, he looks after himself well. He’s a great defender and he gives us good balance on that left-hand side. He’s aggressive in his play and he’s aggressive in his passing. I’ve been absolutely delighted. He hasn’t been on a winning team yet, so he’s getting a bit of stick about that from the boys, but his performances...
“I think he’ll get better and better, I think he’s really enjoying it, and we’re enjoying having him. He was absolutely superb on Thursday night up against quality opposition.”
The fact that Laxalt moved from Genoa in the summer of 2018 for a deal worth E14m, with the potential for a further E4m in add-ons, suggests that it would be difficult to strike a permanent deal for the play on conclusion of his loan season in Glasgow.
“It’s early days,” said Lennon. “Listen, when you’ve got a player like that … again, it will probably come down to having discussions with him. He’s a player I’ve admired for a long time, and he’s proven everything that I thought about him to be true.”
And the Celtic manager believes that Laxalt can help bring on Taylor’s game, even as he restricts his game time. “I think Greg will learn a lot from him and vice-versa, they can bounce off each other,” he said. “Greg’s an excellent, outstanding young talent, and we’ve got two very good left-sided players now in that position that can push each other on. Greg will play his part this season as well, there’s no question about that.”
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