Israel midfielder Nir Bitton is back in manager Neil Lennon’s plans as Celtic prepare to face CFR Cluj in the Europa League, but the Hoops boss will be without Leigh Griffiths, according to the Daily Record.
Bitton has not featured since sustaining a thigh problem at the start of September, which ruled him out of Celtic’s opening Europa League game away to Stade Rennais, having made 11 outings across all competitions prior to the blow (TransferMarkt).
Bitton last featured for Celtic in the Old Firm derby win over Rangers on September 1st, when the 27-year-old played 66 minutes in the core of Lennon’s backline.
Kristoffer Ajer has played in place of the Israel international but now faces a fight to retain his starting role in the Europa League after Lennon confirmed that Bitton will be in contention for a return to action.
Celtic will be without three-goal, one-assist striker Griffiths, though, as the 29-year-old has not fully recovered from the groin issue which has plagued his season, with the 19-cap Scotland international not featuring since his brief outing in the 3-1 win over Hearts back in August.
Griffiths has returned to training at Lennoxtown, but has not reached a sufficient level of match fitness to take a spot in the side to face CFR Cluj tonight.
Michael Johnston and Tom Rogic are also doubts for the Europa League encounter, although the pair will be handed late fitness tests before Lennon decides whether he will call on either against their Romanian opponent.
Croatian centre-back Jozo Simunovic and Australian winger Daniel Arzani have also been ruled out to face Cluj, as the pair continue their recoveries from long-term injuries.
Having Bitton back in contention will be a pleasant boost for Lennon, as the Hoops boss showed his faith in the Israel international earlier in the campaign by deploying the 23-cap midfielder as one of his central defenders.
Celtic have not necessarily struggled in his absence, having kept a clean sheet away to Hamilton Academical, but the Scottish Premiership leaders did concede to seventh-placed Kilmarnock and 11th-placed Hibernian in their subsequent league ties.
The Hoops have also struggled for goals since Griffiths last featured, so Lennon will likely be hoping that the 29-year-old’s return to training will see that he can lace his boots for league action soon.
Is Neil Lennon capable of Europa League success?
Celtic fans, should Lennon start Bitton over Ajer against Cluj? Let us know in the comments below…
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