Celtic head into what is undoubtedly their most glamourous fixture in recent memory on Tuesday evening, with Real Madrid making the trip from Spain to Parkhead for the opening fixture of the 2022/23 Champions League campaign.
And, while many on the outside looking in will have Carlo Ancelotti’s side down as the clear favourites for three points in Glasgow, those who have witnessed the Ange Postecoglou revolution at Celtic Park will be quietly confident that the Bhoys could well set the cat amongst the pigeons with a positive result against Los Blancos.
Indeed, there is no clearer sign that times are well and truly changing under the 57-year-old’s management than Celtic’s 4-0 demolition of the 2021/22 Europa League finalists and Old Firm rivals Rangers last time out – a fixture in which the Hoops very much looked as if they possess the collective ability to give even the biggest of European giants a run for their money.
However, while it will most certainly require a team effort if the Bhoys are to lay a significant glove on Real in tomorrow evening’s European clash, there is one player in particular who Postecoglou will undoubtedly be hoping for another big performance under Parkhead lights on Tuesday night – Liel Abada.
The 20-year-old winger – who only joined Celtic from Maccabi Petah Tikva in a £3.4m deal last summer – has been nothing short of sensational over his stay in Glasgow thus far, scoring an extremely impressive 15 goals and registering 11 assists over his 54 appearances in all competitions last time out – returns that helped see him named as the PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year.
It has been a similar story for the £6.75m-rated talent over his six Premiership appearances – only two of which have come as starts – this season, with the forward having already bagged six goals, provided one assist and created two big chances for his teammates, as well as taking an average of 1.8 shots – 1.7 of which have hit the target – and making one key pass per game.
These metrics have seen the Israel international average a simply stunning SofaScore match rating of 7.68, ranking him as the joint second-best performer in the Scottish top flight as a whole so far in 2022/23.
However, it was undoubtedly Abada’s performance in the Old Firm last weekend that most caught the eye, with the youngster bagging two goals, making two key passes, completing one dribble and winning two fouls over his 73 minutes on the pitch against Gers – with these returns seeing him earn a match-topping SofaScore match rating of 8.8.
Following the derby day demolition, The Athletic’s Kieran Devlin highlighted the importance of Abada’s Arjen Robben-esque blindside runs – a technique that facilitated his brace on Saturday – with the journalist stating of the 20-year-old on Twitter:
“Everyone knows the danger of Abada’s blindside runs. But as with Arjen Robben cutting onto his left to curl a shot, there is a world of difference between knowing what he is doing and actually stopping it. That’s five goals from such runs in 2 league games.”
As such, while the £10k-per-week starlet has not exactly been a regular in Postecoglou’s starting XI so far this season, the Bhoys boss simply must unleash Abada from the off against Madrid tomorrow night, as the winger’s Robben-like runs will no doubt cause nightmares for Ancelotti’s backline.
Indeed, with the former Netherlands international having scored 18 goals and provided 15 assists over his 45 appearances under the Italian manager during their shared time at Bayern Munich, should the Celtic sensation be successful with another of his blindside runs against Real, Abada will give the 63-year-old some very unwanted flashbacks.