Analysis: Could Leigh Griffths and Patryk Klimala be Celtic strikeforce against Rangers?
The great unknown about the Celtic team that will face Rangers centres around who will play upfront for the Scottish champions.
The answer might - might - just be a pairing that hasn’t really been considered. If Neil Lennon had his strike quartet of Odsonne Edouard, Albian Ajeti, Leigh Griffiths and Patryk Klimala fit and firing, his choice would be straightforward. Edouard and Ajeti would be his frontline combination. However, reading between the lines of what the Celtic manager had to say about these two forwards in his newspaper pre-match press conference gave little indication that he believes that either are ready to start.
That raises the intriguing possibility Lennon could throw in a curve ball and partner Griffiths with Klimala to spearhead a 3-5-2 set-up. It would be bold, certainly, with Griffiths having played only 16 minutes of competitive football since March, and his Polish counterpart having started only two games for the club since his £3.5m January move from Jagiellonia Białystok. However, as a twosome, the pair proved the matchwinners for Celtic following their late introduction away to St Johnstone in the club’s last outing.
Some broadcasters deduced that Ajeti was in Lennon’s thinking for a starting role because he said the Swiss international has been back in full training following a hamstring strain. Yet, the Celtic manager caveated that in his chat with newspaper reporters. “He’s trained the last couple of days. He’s been out for three weeks, so he’ll definitely be in the squad anyway,” was a response that didn’t make it sound as if Lennon was earmarking Ajeti for a start.
More understandably, it was a similar story when he was asked about the conditioning of Edouard following his 10 days self-isolating following his positive Covid-19 test on duty with the French under-21s. A predicament that meant he only returned to Scotland only around 24 hours before the derby. Lennon was asked if the 22-year-old had been given a training programme to follow in his homeland. His answer appeared instructive.
“His symptoms were like mild cold symptoms, and he was feeling very tired, so he wasn’t able to do anything,” he said. “We’ll know more later on when he’s assessed.
Lennon could, of course, play Mohamed Elyounoussi off either Griffiths or Klimala. Yet, the Polish under-21, whose robustness could be well matched to the derby hurly-burly, appears a front man whose game isn’t naturally suited to playing as a solo striker. Griffiths can do that, but his footballing intelligence allows him to be an effective foil to a more fixed-point partner. He proved that in dovetailing so effectively with Edouard across the latter part of the Covid-19 curtailed last campaign.
Moreover, the 30-year-old Scotland international has a record in the fixture that would seem to offer sufficient reasons to believe it could be worth taking a risk on him. He has three goals from only four starts against the club’s ancient adversaries. Moreover, unlike both Ajeti and Edouard, he has been in training every day for the past six weeks. Apparently, he appeared sharp when scoring in a bounce game against Motherwell last Friday, the maverick coming through the full 90 minutes with no issues. The issue of where that leaves him in regard to his readiness for Rangers is now a matter for Lennon.
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