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During Sunday’s demolition of Kilmarnock Ange took the opportunity to field three of this season’s signings together in his starting XI for the very first time.
Granted that his hand was forced somewhat due to the absence of Cameron Carter-Vickers (reportedly nursing a knee injury) and Reo Hatate, the manager will nonetheless have been pleased to have given Yuki Kobayashi, Tomoki Iwata and Sead Haksabanovic further gametime during the 4-1 win.
But, is their inclusion a sign of things to come?
BUILDING FOR NEXT SEASON ALREADY UNDERWAY
We know by now that generally speaking Ange Postecoglou isn’t one for signing players simply as squad members or as back up.
Some signings don’t work out of course, that’s football, but by and large each of his new signings have improved the team for the better once they’ve been embedded into the lineup.
It’s clear that success on the European stage is a burning desire for the manager and though we have a crucial six weeks or so of this season remaining, the planning for next season will already be well underway.
As three of our most recent signings there are high expectations that Kobayashi, Iwata and Haksabanovic will be a key part of our next assault on the UEFA Champions League.
THE YOUNG PRETENDER
Though still only 22, Yuki Kobayashi plays with a calmness and composure beyond his years.
His appearances in the Hoops have been fleeting so far, with only four in total, but until Liam Donnelly’s consolation goal for Kilmarnock he had yet to concede a goal.
He’s a defender first and foremost, however we know how important good distribution is within Ange’s system and this is what – over time – may nudge the Japanese youngster ahead of carl Starfelt in the pecking order.
As a natural left footer he already has an advantage over the Swede and the ability to start attacks down the left hand side in a quicker fashion than we are currently may be what leads to him making the left centra half spot his own.
Described in the aftermath of Sunday’s win as a “tank” by team-mate Matt O’Riley, Tomoki Iwata has shown himself as a powerful yet pacy midfielder across his ten appearances so far.
His willingness to make himself available to receive the ball is an attribute that will be appreciated by his manager and team-mates alike and with the addition of his clever ball retention this could be vital when we face that higher calibre of opponent in Europe.
Injuries and mixed form across Celtic’s midfield may have led to Ange including Iwata quicker than intended but the smart money is on him now retaining that position for the foreseeable.
Described by the manager as “more than just a sitting midfielder” his versatility may be what ensures a start in the upcoming Scottish Cup Semi-Final and beyond.
Players like Sead Haksabanovic are the reason we love football.
Talented, fast footed, and with an eye for goal the summer arrival has quickly become something of a cult hero amongst supporters despite his relatively few starts (11) in his maiden season so far.
Niggling injuries have hampered his inclusion and he still looks just that yard or so off being fully fit and match sharp.
Once he’s up to speed though the Montenegrin looks more than capable of giving first choice wingers Jota and Maeda a run for their money.
Perhaps we’ll continue to see him utilised as an impact sub across the remainder of this season, and what an option to have in the closing section of games.
The 23 year old has a steely self-belief about himself though and will be pushing the door for a regular start from the beginning of next season.
THE REMAINDER OF THIS SEASON
Saturday’s clash with Motherwell will be our last league game pre-split with five more to follow after that.
In terms of the Scottish Cup we have a minimum of one game remaining in that Semi-Final at the end of this month, and all going well a Final to then look forward to on the 3rd of June.
A key factor in Celtic’s consistency across a season that’s witnessed just one defeat here Scotland so far has been the smart use of Celtic’s squad, particularly with regard to our implementation of the ‘five subs’ rule.
With the guidance of the sports science department Ange has been able to select squads based on optimal fitness levels, which has seen us dominate across the board.
Whether he chooses to feature them from the start or not, Kobayashi, Iwata, and Haksabanovic have shown enough to convince us that they can have a major influence on the ongoing evolution of Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic.
This season and beyond.
Tune in to the latest episode of The Celtic Exchange Weekly as we discuss the Impact of Kobayashi, Iwata & Haksabanovic, Ange’s Ongoing Champions League Plans and Much More!
Available wherever you get your podcasts, by clicking the player below, or here at The Celtic Exchange website.