The SPFL title race is hotting up: Rangers are on Celtic’s toes and Scott Brown is on the brink of making a comeback from injury. What fitting timing.
Victories for both Celtic and Rangers saw the Old Firm rivals pull clear at the top of the table over the weekend, but both sides will have to put their domestic exploits to one side as they prepare for potentially decisive fixtures in their respective Europa League campaigns this week.
A trip to face Rosenborg – a side who are rock-bottom of Group B and effectively out of the competition – awaits the Hoops. Brendan Rodgers’ side recorded a comfortable 3-0 win over Hamilton Academical on Saturday afternoon to set the tone ahead of their trip, but it was a fixture which raised questions regarding team selection.
Ryan Christie continued to sparkle in midfield with a compelling performance, which he capped with a 13th minute goal, while Callum McGregor was equally as impressive.
But Oliver Ntcham, arguably Celtic’s most talented central midfielder, was once again unconvincing and the weakest of the midfield trio.
Nthcam’s failure to showcase his superiority at this level, which he clearly has in his locker, has provoked the former Celtic goalkeeper Pat Bonner to suggest he could be the man to make way for Brown when he returns from injury.
Speaking on BBC Sportsound, Bonner had this to say: “When Scott Brown comes back, who do you leave out? Olivier Ntcham was a little bit rusty but Christie and McGregor were very good again – and then you have Tom Rogic as well.”
Brown is effectively an embodiment of the passion which makes Celtic fans so vociferous, so his return could make all the difference in a fixture which Celtic will need to be resilient, brave and pragmatic to achieve the desired result.
Whether Brown will be fit enough to start the game remains to be seen but, metaphorically, his return could provide Celtic with the boost they need to claim all three points, even if he is merely observing proceedings from the substitutes bench.
Nthcam, though, will need to take a glance over his shoulder and remind himself that he is far from a world beater, and Rodgers will not think twice about replacing him if he continues to merely tread water.
The former Manchester City midfielder is a phenomenal talent with all of the desirable attributes required to thrive at this level, but without the application and diligence which McGregor and Christie have consistently demonstrated this season he will inevitably lose his place following Brown’s return.
Bonner is absolutely right that Ntcham looked rusty after missing three consecutive SPFL fixtures, and signs of rust or complacency – depending on your standpoint – could ultimately cost him his place in the starting eleven.
Celtic fans – thoughts? Let us know below!
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