Balancing Act

The problem with playing in the Europa League is the knock on effect it has on your weekend.

It’s bad enough that our away games almost always get moved for television, but recently we’ve generally played at home on Saturday at 3pm. Not so this weekend, because having played on Thursday night it would be too soon to play Saturday afternoon after that.

So here we are. Sunday 3pm, kicking off after everyone else has played at least the first half. Yes, there’s a televised game on before we start. Everyone else has already played, and as such we know we now have an opportunity to stretch our lead at the top of the table.

Aberdeen’s defeat at Easter Road yesterday means our eight point lead over them wasn’t cut at all. With the televised game involving the third place team that can only match Aberdeen’s points total, we now have the chance to lead one or both of them by up to eleven points.

With eleven games remaining.

I always like that landmark. There’s something reassuring when you need to average dropping at least a point per game to not be crowned champions. I’ve never been sure why though!

The visitors to Celtic Park today are St Johnstone, a team badly in need of a turnaround in form. They haven’t won any of their last six league fixtures, were knocked out of the Scottish Cup last weekend by Hearts, and find themselves just five points ahead of Ross County at the foot of the table.

It’s looking increasingly likely then that St Johnstone will finish in the bottom six of the league for the first time in seven years. For a team that have finished fourth the last three seasons, that is sure to be a major disappointment.

But there is still a word of caution here. St Johnstone have often been a thorn in our side. They were famously the last team to be Celtic during the 69 game unbeaten domestic run. In their last visit to Celtic Park, they earned themselves a 1-1 draw thanks to a gift of an opening goal in the first half. That was only cancelled out with eleven minutes remaining thanks to an equaliser from Callum McGregor.

And the last time St Johnstone won a league game was across the city in December. So they’ve won in Glasgow already.

For all they got a draw at Celtic Park earlier this season, our last encounter served up a convincing 4-0 victory at McDiarmid Park. Scott Sinclair opened the scoring, but it wasn’t until the final twenty minutes that the game was secured. Moussa Dembele and Olivier Ntcham scored either side of a Steven Anderson own goal.

St Johnstone will look to this game as a chance to change their fortunes while the pressure is off. They’re not expected to get anything, but then again they had midweek off while Celtic were earning their slender lead over Zenit St Petersburg. That victory, while assured and commanding, will still have taken a lot of effort from everyone involved. With the second leg to come next midweek, this St Johnstone match is almost an annoying distraction.

So do we put out another strong team or make a few changes with Europe in mind? With all our injuries, is it even much of a choice? Giving Tom Rogic a run out might be one of the few sensible changes available because not only in he capable of playing a vital part in winning this league match but it would also allow him game time which might get him ready for Zenit if required.

As for the other positions? Edouard might get the nod after helping run down the clock on Thursday, but with Dembele getting better with each passing game do we really want to disrupt that? And what of central defence? Keep the partnership going that prevented any away goal, or bring in Jack Hendry to freshen it up again?

Ideally we’ll get three points and finish the job on Thursday. And while taking it one game at a time sounds logical, that’s not really how these things work.

But then that’s why’s Brendan Rodgers is the manager and I’m just some guy who blogs a lot. I know which one I’d rather have in charge at Celtic!

Krys (Twitter @krys1888)

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