Scottish League Cup final: Can Aberdeen thwart Celtic's James Forrest?
|Scottish League Cup final: Celtic v Aberdeen|
|Venue: Hampden Park, Glasgow Date: Sunday, 2 December Kick-off: 15:00 GMT|
|Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland; live text commentary on the BBC Sport website|
Celtic winger James Forrest is arguably the form player in Scottish football.
The 27-year-old has scored 12 goals in his past 12 games and represents a major threat to Aberdeen's hopes of a first trophy in four years in Sunday's League Cup final.
But what has changed? Why has Forrest's talent belatedly started to flourish? And how might the Pittodrie side try to counter his threat?
Scotland assistant coach James McFadden (JM) and former Scotland midfielder Michael Stewart (MS) provided some answers on BBC Scotland's Sportsound.
Why is Forrest suddenly thriving?
Forrest scored in both of Celtic's opening two games of the season - each leg of the Champions League qualifier against Alashkert - but then went goalless in his next 15, a run which culminated in an unfortunate red card in a Europa League group defeat in Salzburg on 4 October.
However, three days later he scored four in a 6-0 rout of St Johnstone, kick-starting his blistering run of goals for club and country, and currently has 14 for the season, three short of his best haul of 17 last term.
JM: "He has always been a threat because of his pace, but over the years he has maybe been nullified by forcing him wide. But when he gets into the box his penetrating runs are excellent and - as we saw last week with Scotland - his touch and finishing have kicked on to another level. What he brings now is that extra bit of composure. You expect him to score when he is in that position.
"He is really having an impact on games. Even if you are playing as a wide player, you are always told, 'back the defender up, take him into the box, make him over-commit and then it gives the defender a decision to make'. He has been brilliant at doing that."
MS: "A lot of it is down to the fact he has got over these injury problems. He was consistently getting niggling injuries and missing games. But now he has got that run of games and consistency, he is a game-changer and a match-winner. The last couple of months, he has shown how important he is, not just for Celtic but the national side."
How might Aberdeen counter him?
MS: "It is not as simple as saying to the left-back, 'you are going to have to be on your game'. Forrest has the intelligence to drift and link up with others. If you look at the goals he scored for Scotland [two against Albania, three against Israel], he is not arriving at the back post and scoring. He is coming into areas around the penalty spot. The runs he makes from out to in are so difficult for defenders to match."
JM: "Aberdeen will have to be at their best in terms of being switched on, knowing their jobs and positions; their work-rate has to be excellent. The last few games, they have played with two strikers - one up and one off him, but they might look to bring in an extra midfielder.
"But it is all well and good saying, 'we will stop James Forrest'. Celtic are not a one-man team. Ryan Christie is another who can't stop scoring at the moment. Then you look at Tom Rogic, Olivier Ntcham, Callum McGregor, Scott Brown if he is back, Scott Sinclair is back in form as well, Odsonne Edouard, Kieran Tierney bombing up the left... it isn't looking great for Aberdeen."
So do Aberdeen have any hope?
JM: "Aberdeen have a chance, because it is a one-off game. But they will have to be at their very best and hope Celtic have an off-day. The way Aberdeen lost at Motherwell last weekend was poor. Maybe that will be a wake-up call for them. But it's not like Derek McInnes has four or five guys on the bench who can freshen it up and change the dynamic."
MS: "It is a real conundrum for Aberdeen - how to get the balance right between defence and attack? They have still got enough in the wide areas but they really do need Gary Mackay-Steven and Niall McGinn to be on top form to force Celtic the other way. When they win the ball, they have to be able to get at Celtic's backline and behind it as quickly as possible.
"If Mikey Devlin is even remotely fit, he comes in, rather than Andrew Considine in central defence. Then Derek McInnes has got a question mark whether he plays Considine at left-back or stick with Max Lowe. My gut instinct is he would probably go with Considine's experience.
"I would be astonished if he doesn't put Dominic Ball in as a defensive midfielder and move Lewis Ferguson further forward. Then you have a front three of McGinn, James Wilson and Mackay-Steven. That is the best chance Aberdeen have got."