Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic side head into Thursday evening’s Europa League clash against Real Betis knowing that they cannot finish any higher or lower than third place in the Group G standings – a fixture many would deem a dead rubber.
However, while it is true that the three points available in the match ultimately do not matter, the contest will undoubtedly still prove to be an extremely important one for the 56-year-old manager.
This is not only because a win against a team who sit third in the LaLiga table would provide his side with a substantial boost in confidence, but it is also an opportunity for Celtic to afford a number of their peripheral squad members some much-needed first-team minutes.
Indeed, youngsters such as Liam Shaw, Osaze Urhoghide, Liam Scales, Dane Murray and Mikey Johnston have seen their game time extremely limited so far this season, with the fixture against Betis being the perfect time to unleash at least a few of Celtic’s most exciting up and coming talents.
As such, some of the players who started the 3-0 win over Dundee United last weekend will have to make way, with James Forrest appearing to be a prime candidate for the chop on Thursday night.
While it is true the winger is still in the process of regaining full fitness in his recovery from injury, it is unavoidable that Forrest was by far and away Celtic’s most disappointing performer at Tannadice.
Indeed, over his 45 minutes on the pitch, the £5.4m-rated winger struggled to make any real impact on the game, failing to complete any of his three attempted crosses, losing three of his five duels and completing just 16 passes – six fewer than Joe Hart.
These returns saw the £19k-per-week forward earn a SofaScore match rating of 6.9 – the second-lowest of any Celtic player to start the fixture – before he was hooked at halftime after appearing to struggle with the pace of the match.
As such, while Forrest is undoubtedly a talented player – with Kieran Tierney dubbing the 30-year-old’s ability as “scary,” as well as claiming he is “one of the best” players he has featured alongside – in order to provide the likes of Johnston with a much-needed start, Postecoglou simply must axe the Scotland international from his starting XI against Real Betis.