Treble success for Celtic hinges on Main man

 • by Stefan Bienkowski
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On Saturday Celtic face the unique opportunity of winning back-to-back domestic trebles, as Brendan Rodgers side line up against Motherwell in the Scottish Cup final.

As expected, the Scottish champions are heavy favourites for the tie, with most bookmakers offering odds as high as 10/1 for Stephen Robinson’s side to put up anything resembling a competitive challenge.

But, is this game a foregone conclusion as most seem to be making out or will Celtic be forced to fight for their last piece of silverware this season? Let’s find out.

Although this matchup may look exceptionally unfair when Motherwell’s final place in the Scottish Premiership this season is noted, being no higher than seventh, when these two clubs have locked horns this season it has been anything but one-way traffic.

When these two teams met late last year in the League Cup final an opening goal from James Forrest in the 49th minute suggested business as usual, but it was Motherwell that harassed the Celtic goal with a point-black header saved by Craig Gordon just three minutes later before an unfortunate penalty decision sent defender Cedric Kipre off and gifted Rodgers’ side a chance to double their lead.

The two sides faced one another just three days after the final at Fir Park, where Robinson’s side once again went toe-to-toe with Celtic and were a goal up until another fortune penalty shout allowed Scott Sinclair to level the score just two minutes from time.

And although Celtic then one the next tie 5-1 at Celtic Park, the Steelmen managed to grab another draw from Rodgers side in late March when they once again came to Motherwell and were forced to share the points.

Indeed, while a number of clubs in Scotland certainly down tools when Celtic show up Robinson’s Motherwell are a combative and down-right aggressive squad of players that simply refuse to bow to anyone. And that’s exactly why they’ll refuse to sit in place for the champions on Saturday.

Where that may become most apparent is in the middle of the Hampden pitch.

Celtic captain, Scott Brown, is used to lording over opposing sides and dictating his team’s pace and forward plays with relative ease, but against Motherwell he might find himself the target of physical challenges and undoubtedly the focus of their frustrating and somewhat limitless closing down.

Among the Scottish Premiership’s top midfielders Motherwell captain Carl McHugh is second in the league for the most interceptions and top for most aerial duels per 90 minutes, while young midfield talent Allan Campbell is fourth for the most tackles made per 90 minutes.

As witnessed in a select few games this season, when the opposing side can knock Brown out of his comfort zone Celtic can begin to look far less composed in attack and in Campbell and McHugh Robinson has too combative midfielders that will be undoubtedly intent on doing exactly that.

Meanwhile, the plucky underdogs will also be hoping that their man-shaped battering ram, Curtis Main, will enjoy an afternoon of chasing Celtic’s central defenders around the park and hopefully putting the champions to the sword with a goal or two.

Although Main only joined the club in January, he has amassed no less than eight goals in 20 games for the Steelmen and perhaps most importantly a large chunk of those goals have come in exceptionally oportune circumstances.

In the league, Main has scored against both Hearts and Hibs and bagged a goal and assist when Rangers came to Fir Park and were forced to leave with a 2-2 draw. While on the way to the Scottish Cup final the 25-year-old striker picked up an assist in the fourth round against Hamilton, a goal in the last-16 win over Dundee and then two goals in the 3-0 win over Aberdeen in the semi-finals.

As remarkable as it may seem, Motherwell have somehow managed to replace the seemingly irreplaceable Louis Moult with a striker that is not only faster and stronger than him but can also score at an almost identical rate. Moult left Scottish football in January with an xG per 90 minutes of 0.5, while Main already finds himself sitting on 0.42.

Of course, none of this guarantees anything and if Motherwell are to cause an upset then each of these factors and perhaps another dozen more will have to align perfectly. But we can be sure of one thing: Saturday won’t be as one-sided as many expect it to be.

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