Celtic strolled past lower league Partick Thistle with a 5-0 victory in mid-week and one player made the most of his return to the starting line-up.
Olivier Ntcham scored a double including a stunning 35-yard strike showing the Frenchman is close to being back to his best. Ntcham hasn’t had the game time he would’ve liked this season primarily due to the form of Ryan Christie.
Neil Lennon has preferred a midfield three of Scott Brown, Callum McGregor and Christie leaving Ntcham on the sidelines for the big games in particular. He has only appeared in 13 Celtic games this season and a total of 649 minutes just 49% of league minutes.
Celtic need to be careful that Ntcham doesn’t become disillusioned with life at Parkhead and request a move away from the club he signed from Manchester City for £4.5m in 2017. Being “offered” to Bordeaux in the summer would have done little to make him feel wanted.
Previously, the Hoops would be able to demand a transfer fee of a least double the figure they paid for Ntcham but if he continues to be a peripheral figure then they would expect to just get their money back – unhappy players not getting a game simply don’t achieve good numbers in the modern transfer market.
Ntcham has attracted interest before and given the form and profile of Christie – Scottish and only 23 – Celtic wouldn’t stand in his way if a sizeable offer was to be made. There is however, one issue, the Scott Brown one.
Brown isn’t getting any younger and is already being managed carefully for Lennon to keep him fresh for key games. McGregor has shown he can play in the deeper, playmaker role and should be utilised here more often. Yes, Ntcham has tended to operate further up the park but his technical ability and athleticism allow him to play in a more central role.
Not only should Lennon do his utmost to keep Ntcham but he should also be looking to integrate him into the starting XI either as a replacement for Brown or McGregor. The latter has only missed one game this season and the Celtic gaffer should trust Ntcham more often to keep McGregor injury free and prevent burn out, there are enough games for the four midfielders to get ample game time.
Ntcham showed his class against Thistle and hopefully it will serve as a reminder that he has a level of ability that few in the Celtic squad can match, warming the bench certainly won’t be part of the young Frenchman’s career plan.