The Celtic selection quandaries facing Ange Postecoglou for West Ham clash
If only there was such a thing as a meaningless friendly, Ange Postecoglou might be thinking to himself as he prepares for the visit of West Ham United.
Saturday’s joust with David Moyes’ men falls somewhere between an assignment the Celtic manager could do without, and one that offers genuine value. Precisely what makes it an awkward beast.
It isn’t the real deal, a match that will have resonance for the Greek-Australian’s still-in-its-infancy tenure. Not like the first leg of Champions League second round qualifier against FC Midtjylland that ended in a 1-1 draw that preceded it, or the Danish decider coming on Wednesday.
It is the filling in the sandwich for those, but Postecoglou must ensure it doesn’t result in anything too difficult to stomach for him, his squad or a support he wants to have eating out of his hand. And how he achieves those aims is where the trickiness comes in.
The ridiculous red card picked up by Nir Bitton against Midtyjlland means Postecoglou only has two central defenders eligible for the tie that have actually played competitively for the club. Yet the 45 minutes that 18-year-old Dane Murray was handed on Tuesday when sent on to fill the gap created by Bitton’s dismissal is the sum total of his senior experience; the sum total of his time on a pitch in a serious encounter alongside Stephen Welsh. Indeed, the duo had only 62 minutes in tandem across Celtic’s three warm-up games down south previously.
Against an opponent as challenging as West Ham, it would seem advantageous for the Welsh-Murray combination to be further developed and tested. However, in the event of either sustaining an injury, a major selection headache would be created for Postecoglou in Midtjylland. If either was ruled out for the trip, he would require to deploy either Sheffield Wednesday summer signing Osaze Urhoghide or Leo Hjelde. The two young players have no first-team competitive minutes in Celtic colours. In turning to Murray in a perilous situation earlier this week, Postecoglou patently felt he was a better bet than these alternatives – a call that proved sound as the debutant produced an accomplished display.
As the Celtic manager highlighted in a Sky interview aired on Friday, the recruitment issues that have beset him over his first month are laid bare in having only one senior right-back at his disposal, in Anthony Ralston. However disparaging the Celtic support may be of the 22-year-old, their club’s hopes of Champions League progress next week will not be enhanced should he pick up a knock in the friendly.
Set against such considerations, a case can be made for further familiarising the starting XI with each other ahead of them being relied on in Denmark. Yet, James Forrest will require game time following his false start to the season after being identified as a Covid-19 close contact. Equally, though, the assimilation of new right winger Liel Abada, who netted the vital goal against Midtjylland, remains in its infancy. Not least because the 19-year-old Israeli had to be withdrawn to allow Murray to be installed at centre-back in the immediate aftermath of Bitton’s sending off. Postecoglou has plenty to ponder for a match that essentially doesn’t matter.
Get a year of unlimited access to all The Scotsman's sport coverage without the need for a full subscription. Expert analysis of the biggest games, exclusive interviews, live blogs, transfer news and 70 per cent fewer ads on Scotsman.com - all for less than £1 a week. Subscribe to us today
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.