The right-back’s form has dropped significantly this season compared to the rest of his time at Celtic.
Mikael Lustig’s season went from bad to worse when he was dismissed last weekend, during a 2-0 win against Aberdeen at Pittodrie.
The Swedish veteran, who has been Celtic’s starting right-back since 2012, has come under heavy criticism during the course of the season, with several key lapses in concentration leading to serious mistakes.
Each time, Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has appeared to give the 31-year-old the benefit of the doubt and has continued to select him despite pressure from the fans to cut their losses on the full-back. With the Swede now looking likely to miss the upcoming Rangers game away at Ibrox, however, it feels like this may be the final straw when it comes to shots at redemption for Lustig.
The following options could be deployed by Celtic to help deal with the Lustig situation; not only in the coming weeks and months, but in the years ahead.
20-year-old academy graduate Anthony Ralston may be the key to replacing Lustig at Celtic. The youngster rose to prominence earlier in the season after some strong performances for the senior side, and became a fan favourite after a fiery performance marking the world’s most expensive player, Neymar, during a Champions League group game against PSG.
Ralston was rewarded with a long-term Celtic deal in December, but has spent much of the season out through injury. Having returned to full fitness, the Scotsman is itching to get out on the pitch and prove that he is the right man for the job, and he should he be handed the chance to continue where he left off prior to his injury.
He may well claim the right-back shirt for his own, just as Kieran Tierney did with the left-back position a couple of seasons ago.
Switch to a back three
Brendan Rodgers has opted to play with a back three on plenty of occasions this season, with three centre-backs being complimented with the likes of Kieran Tierney and James Forrest or Patrick Roberts as wing-backs. The system has worked well at times, allowing two strikers to play up top. However, due to the defensive injury crisis Celtic have been experiencing, there have rarely been enough centre-halves fit to slot into the back three.
When the likes of Marvin Compper and Dedryk Boyata return to full fitness, then perhaps the potential back three formation could be revisited, and it may just help with the side’s defensive frailties. One thing is for sure: wide players such as Tierney and Forrest are the ideal mould to become successful wing-backs.
Both individuals work tirelessly down the flanks, offering themselves offensively as much as they do defensively and, going off the evidence of their work in recent months, they would do a brilliant job for Rodgers if they are selected at wing-back.
Sell Lustig and re-invest in a new right-back
This is the most plausible option when it comes to addressing the Lustig situation, although the club will have to wait until the end of the season to do so. Signing a new right-back would not mean the end of the road for Ralston, it may simply be a necessity when it comes to squad depth and competition for places.
Should Sunderland remain bottom of the Championship and be relegated into League One, perhaps a move for former Celt Adam Matthews would be wise. Matthews moved on from Celtic to the Black Cats in 2015, after struggling to establish himself as the club’s first choice right-back ahead of Lustig. With Lustig gone, however, Matthews may feel there is unfinished business in Glasgow.
Alternatively, Daniel Opare of Augsburg would be another potential and realistic option in terms of an affordable right-back target. The Ghanaian international is thought to be on the lookout for a new club, and was attracting interest from the likes of Leicester City and Stoke City during the January window.
Opare to Celtic would be a fairly typical Hoops signing, as they often target talents from further afield around the European leagues. Regardless, with plenty of money in the bank, according to Celtic Chief Executive Peter Lawwell, the club are looking as financially strong as ever and should now be able to genuinely rival others when it comes to signing players such as Opare.