The £535k question for Celtic and why Real Betis clash could be perfect time for Tobi Oluwayemi senior debut

There has been a universal temptation, which none of us seem to have avoided, to state that Celtic’s Europa League closer against Real Betis on Thursday is entirely meaningless.

Tobi Oluwayemi warming up for Celtic before the Scottish Premiership match against Hibs on January 11, 2021 (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)
Tobi Oluwayemi warming up for Celtic before the Scottish Premiership match against Hibs on January 11, 2021 (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

If you are one of the club’s bean counters, the suggestion could have you snorting in derisory fashion. It is certainly true that Celtic’s fate is sealed in the competiton. The Conference League knock-out stages now lies in wait for Ange Postecoglou’s men early next year; the consequence of Bayer Leverkusen and the Seville side sealing the top two places in Group G. Yet, the visit of Manuel Pellegrini’s team, which will be consciously understrengthed, still carries a price tag. Any group stage win in the competition nets victorious clubs £535,000.

That isn’t nothing. It isn’t suffucient prize money, though, for Postecoglou to avoid any accountancy considerations - far from difficult for the football-centric coach, you imagine - and ensure he protects his prize assets in the midst of a game-stuffed period...the Betis encounter the third of 10 inside a mere 33 days.

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Postecoglou has spun the contest in a different fashion. He has maintained it is an opportunity to get senior minutes into players relatively light on recent game-time as he seeks to have options allowing him some latitude to rotate across an over-stuffed match programme. Yet both ways of assesing the hosting of La Liga’s current third-placed side add up to much the same, in truth.

The Celtic manager has intimated he wants to give starts to such as James McCarthy, Mikey Johnston, Nir Bitton, Liel Abada, Liam Scales and Greg Taylor. In the case of all but Taylor, who returned at the weekend after three months out following shoulder surgery, this group have had their exposure limited by the need to push consistently certain players through every game. David Turnbull - who has played more minutes than any other player at the club - and captain Callum McGregor come into that bracket. Both should not be stripped on Thursday. Neither should Tom Rogic, who has played back-to-back games in the past week on his return from five weeks sidelined by a hamstring issue. There is the also the option of resting Kyogo and bringing in Albian Ajeti.

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Yet, there is also further potential for giving mainstays a welcome evening off. Keeper Joe Hart is second only to Turnbull for minutes on the pitch at Celtic this season. In light of the fact that whatever the outcome against Betis it will rapidly fade from memory, Postecoglou should give the 34-year-old a watching brief for a slightly different reason to his changes elsewhere in the home side.

It has been intriguing to see Tobi Oluwayemi listed alongside Scott Bain as Celtic’s two substitute goalkeepers for the past three Europa League games. The 18-year-old, recruited on a three-year deal from Tottenham Hotspur’s academy in February 2019, is patently highly regarded. Called up for the England under-19s in recent months, the Londoner has represented his country at 16s, 17s and 18s. With Postecoglou appearing to have given up on Vasilis Barkas, and Conor Hazard and Bain already experienced in European competition, Thursday’s Celtic Park sell-out seems a good opportunity to see what Oluwayemi could offer in the senior set-up as the teenager seeks to build on B team exposure.

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