Celtic manager Neil Lennon has indicated that he will have a full squad from which to choose his starting line-up for tonight’s Champions League meeting with CFR Cluj.
According to Celtic’s official Twitter channel, Lennon has said that defenders Hatem Abd Elhamed and Jozo Simunovic will both come into the squad after missing Saturday’s 5-2 Premiership win against Motherwell.
The manager also told @CelticFC that everyone in his squad is available for the second leg of the third round qualifier against the Romanian champions, with the teams level at 1-1 going into the clash at Celtic Park.
Lennon said: “Everyone’s fully fit. Hatem and Jozo will come back into the squad now after the weekend so those two will be back in contention.” [via @CelticFC]
Abd Elhamed has made just two appearances for Celtic since joining from Hapoel Be’er Sheva last month, going off with a dead leg in the 7-0 win over St Johnstone earlier this month but playing for 87 minutes in last week’s draw away to CFR Cluj.
His place at right-back was taken by Kristoffer Ajer in the win at Motherwell on Saturday, with the Norway international preferred to Anthony Ralston in that role.
Like Ajer, Abd Elhamed is more accustomed to playing in the centre of defence than on the right (via Transfermarkt), but the Israel international has made a solid start to life in Glasgow from the wide position, with some Celtic fans highly impressed by his debut performance against St Johnstone, as reported by The Scotsman.
Simunovic has yet to feature in the Premiership this season due to a two-game suspension imposed after he was sent off against St Gallen in pre-season, as noted by the Daily Record, but he has started all of Celtic’s five Champions League qualifying matches so far.
The Hoops have conceded two goals in as many games without him in the Premiership, compared to three goals in five matches (0.6 per game) in their European campaign to date.
The availability of Abd Elhamed and Simunovic for the game against CFR Cluj should help Lennon to field his strongest back four instead of having to mix and match like he did against Motherwell, where Ajer’s deployment on the right saw Nir Bitton move back to the centre of defence.
Celtic’s concession rate is lower with Simunovic in the team than without, so he could get the nod to start again in Europe, while Abd Elhamed should return at right-back now that he is fully fit.
With the Romanian side the only team to deny Celtic victory in seven games so far this season, they are likely to pose another stern test tomorrow night, so Lennon can be glad to have all his defensive options available. Indeed, with Christopher Jullien also in contention at centre-back, he even has the welcome luxury of having a decision to make regarding his central defensive pairing.
Celtic fans, do you think Abd Elhamed and Simunovic should both start against CFR Cluj? Join in the discussion by commenting below!
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