Who will start for Celtic against PSG in the Champions League?
GK - Craig Gordon
He’s been in some iffy form of late, being partly responsible for every Celtic goal conceded in domestic football so far and not exactly covering himself in glory at Astana’s fourth in the second leg of the play-off round. However, there’s little to no chance of Brendan Rodgers dropping him in favour of Dorus de Vries at this point. It’s almost a year since the veteran back-up last played for the club.
DR - Mikael Lustig; DC - Nir Bitton; DC - Jozo Simunovic; DL - Kieran Tierney
Three quarters of the back four picks itself. The big question revolves around the second centre-back alongside Simunovic.
It was assumed that Bitton would start. However, the Scottish Sun have chucked a curveball into the mix on Tuesday morning, suggesting teenager Anthony Ralston will play instead. The 18-year-old would take up residence on the right, allowing Lustig to move into the centre.
While there’s a certain logic behind the move - no Bitton, mainly - it does mean there are two possible weak links in the defence instead of one. Ralston is highly rated, but has made only seven competitive appearances for Celtic. It’s a huge gamble to rely on him to keep Neymar in check.
Some would argue he’s ready to handle the responsibility, seeing as his team-mate on the opposite side handled his introduction to European football rather well. But for every Kieran Tierney there’s hundreds of other youngsters who wilt in such high-pressure games, and it would be a huge gamble for the Celtic boss to take, especially when his side are already massive underdogs.
Besides, while Bitton did not cover himself in glory during the away leg in Astana, Lustig wasn’t any better in the centre of defence.
MC - Scott Brown; MC - Olivier Ntcham
It’s widely presumed that this is going to be the midfield pairing any time Celtic come up against a tough opponent. First and foremost, Brendan Rodgers wants his side to keep possession, regardless of who Celtic are playing, and Ntcham gives them the best hope of doing so alongside the club captain.
MR - James Forrest; AM - Tom Rogic; ML - Scott Sinclair
WHAT?! No Patrick Roberts. How on earth do you justify this?
Easy, Rodgers did it for most of last year’s group stage campaign. Roberts started the first game against Barcelona instead of Forrest, and was never again preferred over the winger. Forrest started against Manchester City at home, Borussia Monchengladbach away and Barcelona at home. Neither started the trip to Germany, while both were in the line-up for Manchester City away.
Roberts has improved since then, so there’s a chance Rodgers could go with, what is on paper, his strongest line-up. The reason Forrest has been preferred before is because he brings greater balance to the side. While Roberts does his best work drifting inside, Forrest stays wide and, therefore, keeps the shape of the team. He’s also got the ability to burn opponents with his pace in behind, something that will likely come in handy against a PSG side who are heavy favourites and could hem the hosts in their own half for long periods.
Another interesting question is whether Armstrong plays instead of Rogic, with Callum McGregor also in the mix. This section depends on whether Rodgers regards industry and dynamism to be of greater importance than technical ability in this encounter. The manager’s vision for how the match plays out will determine that.
If he believes Celtic, with their home ground advantage, can hold their own in terms of possession, then Rogic will likely play. He’s the biggest threat around the opposing penalty box. If Rodgers believes his side need a little help getting up the park quickly from defence to attack, he’ll go with Armstrong, who can muck in defensively and then carry the ball up the field from deep. If he envisions a backs-to-the-wall performance for 90 minutes, then McGregor might get the call.
Rodgers has always had confidence in his players to battle with the best of them, especially at Celtic Park. For that reason, I’ve gone for Rogic.
FC - Leigh Griffiths
Odsonne Edouard already looks like a terrific signing after his debut against Hamilton Accies and you can imagine the 19-year-old pushing Griffiths and Moussa Dembele for the starting role this season. However, it’s unlikely he’ll be chucked into the deep end against his parent club, whom he just left 13 days ago.