Sunday 17 December 2017

Lennon to shuffle pack as he looks to Juve clash

Roddy Forsyth

In normal circumstances, the meeting of first and second in the SPL would demand a full-strength commitment from both parties.

Today, though, it will be a reshuffled Celtic – not for the first time this season – who take the field at Inverness as Neil Lennon harbours his strength for the visit of Juventus on Tuesday.

With a 15-point lead over Caley Thistle in the Scottish title campaign, the Hoops manager can afford to pick and mix to conserve resources for the much-anticipated first instalment of the Champions League last-16 tie against the Serie A side.

Such is the nature of a one-horse race and, although Caley Thistle recorded their first league win at Celtic Park on November 24 and will be duly encouraged for today's visit by the champions, Lennon would be open to criticism if he did not take the opportunity to rest a few regulars and offer some squad players an outing in what is likely to be a lively fixture.

Mind you, certain absences are regretted by the Parkhead manager. Emilio Izaguirre and Georgios Samaras are still on the injury list and are rated by the manager as 50-50 to feature against Juve, while James Forrest – who made his first appearance since December in last Sunday's Scottish Cup tie against Raith Rovers, scoring in a 3-0 win – will likely be rested after withdrawing from the Scotland squad in midweek because of a hamstring problem.

"James has had two scans this week. The first one was all clear so we are waiting on the results of the second one," said Lennon.

That aside, the international break was a positive for Celtic. Scott Brown was unexpectedly elevated to the Scotland captaincy for the game against Estonia at Pittodrie, where Charlie Mulgrew scored his first goal for his country to get Gordon Strachan off to a winning start as manager.

"Well, it's a great honour for Scott – I think he's a great captain," said Lennon. "He's coped with the pressure very well. You see a new body language with Scott now.


"There's definitely a more mature personality there and great leadership qualities, and obviously Gordon agrees with that."

Asked if Brown was solely responsible for a new-found maturity, his manager replied: "Well, do you think it's down to me? You have chats with him but he's got to take it on board.

"I did want him to tidy up his disciplinary record. I felt he picked up too many unnecessary bookings at times. Now he's remedied that and he sets a good example to the rest of the players – especially the younger players."

Brown, though, is not beyond a degree of off-the-wall behaviour, as was noted when he sauntered in for training in a T-shirt yesterday, despite the icy weather. "He doesn't feel the cold! He'll probably go out there today and train in his T-shirt," said Lennon.

"It's incredible. That's part of his make-up. He went crashing into a couple of tackles the other night because he wanted to set the tone for the rest of the team. Fairly – he won the ball clean – and if you take that aggression, which he has channelled, away from him, then he's not the same player. But there are millions of players like that.

"He sets ground-rules in the dressing-room – things like respect for everybody. He does a lot of stuff behind the scenes for charity that people don't see – like getting the players involved and that kind of thing. But he's not f****** Elton John!"

One first pick who will return after a three-week absence due to a neck injury is goalkeeper Fraser Forster.

Meanwhile, Forster's fellow Englishman Gary Hooper has been buoyed by the news that Roy Hodgson will be at Celtic Park to watch the game against Juve. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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