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Tomoki Iwata turned 26 years old today and Celtic’s midfield powerhouse will be hoping for a belated birthday gift in the shape of a starting slot in tomorrow’s vital Glasgow Derby at Celtic Park.
With Reo Hatate officially ruled out due to injury Ange Postecoglou has some big decisions to make with regard to his midfield three for the crucial clash with Rangers.
Skipper Callum McGregor will 100% start the game – of that there’s no doubt – but will it be in his usual No.6 slot? And who’ll be the other two alongside him in the Hoops midfield?
Iwata made his first start for Celtic just 5 days ago in Sunday’s 2-0 win over Ross County and it would be a bold statement by Ange to follow that up by giving him the nod in such a vital fixture.
But it’s a move the manager will have no qualms in making should he see it as the right call.
AN EXPERIENCED CAMPAIGNER
Unlike team-mates such as Matt O’Riley (22), Liel Abada (21) and Sead Haksabanovic (23), Iwata now falls firmly into the “middle aged” bracket – at least in terms of football – and the player himself won’t be phased by a game of this magnitude.
Capped 4 times for Japan, he’s also currently the J-League’s Player of the Year having helped Yokohama F Marinos to title success in 2022.
More importantly he’s a player that Ange Postecoglou is particular familiar with, and someone he has full faith in.
“Tomoki handled it well last week
He’s a player who’s a bit more experienced than the other lads and I know him well and I’m pretty comfortable with his progress.
I know what he can deliver for us.”
Though he’s been used sparingly across just eight Celtic appearances since his January arrival, he’s provided an assured presence in the heart of the midfield on each occasion.
He also has Glasgow Derby experience amongst those appearances having entered the fray to impressive effect for the closing 15 minutes of the 2-1 League Cup victory in February.
If called upon, Iwata will be ready.
ANGE’S MIDFIELD OPTIONS
Signed primarily as a defensive midfielder, Iwata flitted between there and the centre of defence for Marinos, so if he were to take one of Celtic’s three midfield slots tomorrow it’d almost certainly be in the No.6 role.
So what other options does that leave Ange with?
As stated earlier, McGregor is definitely taking one of the other midfield roles and so if he’s to be played in the same advanced position as last week in Dingwall then that just leaves one spot up for grabs.
The contenders for the remaining shirt are Matt O’Riley, David Turnbull and Arron Mooy.
O’Riley filled the role last week, and I’m on record as a huge fan in general of Turnbull’s ability but I just can’t see past Arron Mooy for this one.
Although it was a fairly comfortable win in the end against Ross County Celtic did suffer from the lack of creativity that Hatate and Mooy can offer.
With the Australian deemed fit for this one it would again seem unlikely for Ange to leave his countryman out of the eleven.
THE VITAL MIDFIELD BATTLE
Games of this nature are often won and lost in the battle for midfield supremacy and in Iwata, McGregor and Mooy there’s a mix of attributes that should cause no end of trouble for whatever midfield selection Rangers go with.
To have players like O’Riley and Turnbull in reserve just shows the strength and depth that Celtic currently offer.
For Iwata however, this is his time to shine.
There’s simply no better stage on which to make your mark in a Celtic shirt.
Just ask Reo Hatate, our two goal hero from a famous night in February of last year!
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