Celtic will be aiming to extend their eight-game unbeaten run when they take on St Johnstone in the League Cup semi-final at Hampden Park this evening.
Ange Postecoglou’s charges have been in fine form in recent weeks, keeping their Europa League hopes alive while closing the gap on the Premiership leaders. The Hoops will turn their attention to the League Cup this weekend as they aim to topple the current holders at the national stadium.
Last season, Celtic ended the campaign trophyless for the first time since 2009/10, so the Glasgow giants will be desperate to put things right this time around, and the Premier Sports Cup is their first opportunity to do just that.
Postecoglou will also be desperate to get his hands on his first piece of silverware after arriving in Scotland in the summer, giving himself some extra time to complete his rebuilding job at Parkhead.
One way in which the 56-year-old may choose to exert some control over proceedings in what promises to be a highly-charged affair is to hand summer signing James McCarthy a rare start.
The experienced midfielder has only featured from the off on three occasions this season after joining from Crystal Palace as a free agent, failing to showcase his true ability on each outing. However, on his day, the Republic of Ireland international can be a top-class operator in the middle of the park.
Injuries have disrupted a promising career, but McCarthy has often produced scintillating displays for both club and country, bringing guile to an action-packed engine room on many outings.
One such standout performance against Manchester City last year earned the praise of his former Eagles boss Roy Hodgson, who lauded the £2.7m-rated maestro’s quality.
“I thought the action that he performed for our equalising goal (against City) on Saturday was quite incredible,” Hodgson gushed.
“To win the ball back that late in the game, to win a difficult challenge, to get himself back up on his feet and produce that pass, that was a real class act I thought. It just shows my faith in him as a class player was being rewarded.
“And his faith in himself and his determination to get back to that level of football, also being rewarded. He deserves an awful lot of credit,” concluded the former England manager.
McCarthy could have a similar impact for Postecoglou if the manager places his faith in the midfielder. The Hoops boss just needs to unleash him from the off for the first time since September and provide him with the platform to illustrate his credentials.
A squad-high average of 2.5 tackles per game at Palace in that 2019/20 campaign illustrates how effective the 31-year-old can be at breaking up play as well as contributing to goals, so today seems like the perfect day for him to return to a Celtic starting line-up.