'It’s not like a tap': How Celtic steel themselves for big matches as Daizen Maeda Hearts chances rated

Ange Postecoglou believes challenging his Celtic players on a daily basis and making them constantly unsure of their position is the best way to steel themselves for a test like Saturday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final at Tynecastle.

Celtic edged a seven-goal thriller against Hearts on their previous trip to Gorgie in a game that swung one way and another and saw the visitors concede two penalties and be denied one of their own in the second domestic Scottish football game to feature VAR technology. An away game against Hearts in front of a 20,000-crowd packed close to the pitch is one of the major tests of character in Scottish football but Postecoglou is not relying on his players digging deep into hidden reserves of mental strength.

“What’s important about that is that you do it constantly,” said the Celtic manager, who rated Daizen Maeda as a 50-50 chance of featuring after the Japan forward picked up a knee knock in Wednesday’s 3-1 win over the same opposition in a Parkhead league encounter. “You can’t just do these things in the big games or games with consequence. It’s not like a tap where you can turn it on and off. Having a strong mindset, having a real belief in something, that needs to be worked on on a daily basis.

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“Wednesday night we needed to show a strong mentality because, especially the first half, we weren’t as fluent as we usually are, and with that kind of scenario it would have been very easy for guys to go away from what we do and maybe try individually to change the course of what we are doing. We have been consistent for a very long time performance-wise and results-wise and it’s because the lads show a strong mindset on a daily basis so, when game time comes around, it’s part of who they are and part of what they do. If you are waiting for a big game to show that character or mindset then I just don’t think it works, you are going in there under false pretences that somehow you can whip something out that you don’t use on a daily basis just because it’s a big game.”

Celtic take on Hearts once again this week, this time in the Scottish Cup.Celtic take on Hearts once again this week, this time in the Scottish Cup.
Celtic take on Hearts once again this week, this time in the Scottish Cup.

Postecoglou feels creating the right kind of culture is key to keeping that strong mentality. “Just the environment, it’s what you do here on a daily basis,” he said. The lads are constantly challenged every day and you need a strong mindset to do that. Some asked earlier if (Sead) Haksabanovic was disappointed at missing out, well that doesn’t come into the equation. Having a strong mindset means you are not disappointed at missing out, you are waiting for an opportunity to play. That’s the difference.

“We do that on a daily basis. All the players know that they are never going to be in a space where they are comfortable, where they know exactly what the next move is. They are constantly put in a position where they need to keep being the best they can be and keep improving themselves. And that’s not easy because human nature is you want to be comfortable. It would be easy for me, just because we have been on a good run, to relax things around here and people get comfortable knowing they will play and where they fit in. That’s where I think you lose that strong mindset. But if you are always a little bit uncertain about your place, then you deal with that on a daily basis and that makes you stronger mentally, I believe.”

Celtic's Daizen Maeda is an injury concern for the match.Celtic's Daizen Maeda is an injury concern for the match.
Celtic's Daizen Maeda is an injury concern for the match.
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