The experience of missing last year’s Betfred Cup final through injury is a letdown Scott Sinclair is now over. The chatter that something has been missing from his game of late is something the Celtic winger is willing to address head on.
Sinclair is expected to return to the starting line-up for this afternoon’s League Cup final against Motherwell after being left on the bench for the 7-1 Champions League mauling by Paris Saint-Germain. It marked the first time he had been omitted for such a major occasion when fit. That his omission created no real ripple reflected the fact that his performances have lacked the pizazz of his debut season at the club.
Sinclair has looked a frustrated figure at times this season even though he has scored 11 goals to lead the club’s scoring charts. He admits he has been frustrated, though not for the reasons that might be imagined.
“People can talk to me about having lost my form but it’s not the case,” said the 28-year-old, who bagged 25 goals from 50 appearances last term. “I still feel my form is there; I just feel like I have two players on me in every game.
“That wasn’t happening last season. I’m getting a player standing next to me for the whole game doing nothing. I’ve got to come up with different things. They are making it much harder for me to get on the ball. It makes my job harder. I’ve got to come up with different things to go forward, create and score goals. I’ve been doing so. The stats are still not too bad but it’s up to me to make more happen.”
Sinclair doesn’t shy away from the fact that his new status as a genuinely marked man can be an exasperating problem.
“You are not used to it,” he said. “It comes to the stage where the guy is literally with you the whole game. You come deep, you go long, you could come all the way back in to goal and he’d come.
“The key is to stay patient. It might be the 60, 70, 80th minute. I’m always focused and there will always be one moment. He might man-mark me for 89 minutes and then I’ll get away from him and get the goal. The first 45 it is going to be difficult to get on the ball; it might have to just be bits and pieces. The key thing is for me to be as patient as I can. Ready.
“It’s very true [it is new to me]. For me it is about trying to keep coming up with different things in my game: What can I do to get away from my man? What decisions do I make? How do I come to get the ball deep or do I go long? Game by game I look over at all the videos and work at it.”
Sinclair might be relieved at not having to watch himself struggle to come up with ways to cope with PSG, which eluded his team-mates in midweek. The savaging endured by Rodgers’ side demonstrated once again the double-life that Celtic lead: the ultimate superpower in their own backyard, and nothing more than a toy for a wildly-financed French club that could soon be the ultimate superpower at the highest level.
Sinclair was still sorry to miss the humbling.
“They’ll be right up there to win the whole competition so it’s for us to learn from the best as a team and as individuals,” he said. “I’d say they were better than Barcelona [who beat Celtic 7-0 last year]. The way they attack with so much pace, the finishing was so clinical – every time they shot it hit the back of the net.”
For clinical read physical when assessing the difficulties that Motherwell will seek to pose Celtic this afternoon in the first meeting between the clubs since Stephen Robinson recast the Lanarkshire team in the summer. “When teams are physical against us I’m sure we can match that,” Sinclair said. “It won’t stop us. The manager has mentioned it before in team talks when we have played them. We have confidence in the team and as much hunger as them, so if they do that we will match them.”
Sinclair is hungry for a playing role in a winning League Cup final team after watching the 3-0 filleting of Aberdeen from the sidelines last season. “To miss a final, you’re devastated,” he said. “It would have been my first cup final with the club as well but that’s behind me now and I’m just looking forward to this one. I managed to get a medal.
“When you play every game leading up to the final, you feel part of the victory and I think you deserve the medal, even if you miss the final. But the manager pulled me afterwards and gave me a medal. I’ll still feel like I earned one more this year if I play and we can win, though. It’s different when you start a game and win it.”
Sinclair is finding it a different proposition to be a game-changer with an opponent casting a constant shadow.