Celtic team news: Leigh Griffiths set to start, with Patryk Klimala on the bench

The relaunch of a Celtic striker’s
career seemed to colour Neil Lennon’s thinking yesterday.
Leigh Griffiths will start for Celtic against Partick Thistle in the Scottish Cup. Picture: Craig Foy / SNSLeigh Griffiths will start for Celtic against Partick Thistle in the Scottish Cup. Picture: Craig Foy / SNS
Leigh Griffiths will start for Celtic against Partick Thistle in the Scottish Cup. Picture: Craig Foy / SNS

As he prepared his Scottish Cup holders opening their defence of the trophy against Partick Thistle at Firhill this evening, the Celtic manager
dropped heavy hints that Leigh Griffiths will be handed
a first domestic start in five months. Meanwhile, Polish forward Patryk Klimala, recruited from Jagiellonia Białystok in a £3.4 million deal four days ago, will be given a slot on the bench as he beds in to his new club.

There may be deliberate choreography in such selection decisions. The obituaries for Griffiths’ Celtic career have been growing since Klimala
arrived. It is not difficult to see why. It is nearly 16 months since the Scotland striker completed a domestic 90 minutes, and he hasn’t scored for five months. Hamstring problems cost him three months in the latter half of 2019, a year that began with the 29-year-old taking a six-month break from the game to deal with mental health issues.

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The week has been awash with rumours that a loan deal with Motherwell for Griffiths was being considered. However, Lennon yesterday sought to give the impression that the mercurial performer wasn’t nearing the exit door.

In that respect, the notion the former Hibs striker has been pushed down the pecking order in which Odsonne Edouard’s out-on-his-own No 1
status has left the similarly injury-beset Vakoun Bayo and Griffiths operating in the shadows doesn’t precisely tally with recent developments.

Griffiths played the full 90 minutes in the Europa League dead rubber in Cluj last month and he appeared in all six of the club’s fixtures before the winter shut-down, a run that ended with the derby defeat at home to Rangers that Lennon “won’t dwell on”.

The Celtic manager doesn’t seem keen to pick over Griffiths’ Celtic prospects beyond believing that the club’s training week in Dubai during the break has enhanced them. “Everybody is speculating about Griff at the moment but we aren’t in any real rush to look at that,” Lennon said.

“We want him to play. He had a good week in Dubai and has been training well this week. So Griff may start against Partick and I think he’d like to stay. He’s never made any intention that he would want to leave.”

Celtic’s January incomings will be doubled with the rubber stamping of a deal for midfielder Ismaila Soro, with work visa issues all that are holding up the 21-year-old Ivorian midfielder’s £2m move from Israeli club Bnei Yehuda.

“The deal has been agreed and we’re just waiting on the paperwork being confirmed,” said Lennon. “He’s a little bull. He’s strong, technically very good, quick across the ground. And at 21 he’s got room for improvement obviously on the tactical side.”

Both Soro and Klimala are “very strong”, according to Lennon, that aspect of their profile important after he bemoaned the lack of physicality his team exhibited in losing to Rangers. The Polish forward also offers Lennon the possibility of reconfiguring his team’s shape to accommodate two strikers.

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“Patryk has good pace and power, [though] obviously it’s very early days for him,” said Lennon. “But he has integrated well.

“He does give us the option to change the formation. He is a different type to what we have – he doesn’t come to the ball that often. He’s a striker who plays on the shoulder a lot and looks to go in behind. That is really his forte from what we have seen of him.”