In attacker Daizen Maeda, his manager Ange Postecoglou has a player who would appear tailor-made for the energy-sapping 90 minutes that awaits in one of the most eagerly anticipated editions in recent times of the one Scottish fixture that elicits global intrigue. The Japanese forward seems suited to the derby’s particular demands because he gives the impression of being powered by a battery that never seems to drain. Even as he has played solidly for the past year-and-a-bit in bouncing straight from his homeland set-up to the cinch Premiership in January.
It might have been wondered if his exertions were catching up with him during the international break. Postecoglou revealed he was “under the weather” in being forced to withdraw from the Japan squad and would have missed the derby had it been played last weekend. Yet, in being “fine” now, it can be taken as read he will be beavering away in a wide-left role at Ibrox that could prove crucial in Celtic’s game strategy. Maeda will be matched-up against James Tavernier. The Rangers captain may be a right-back in positional terms, but in status he is his team’s most potent provider. He boasts the league’s highest assists total with an 11 haul, has fashioned 96 chances and it is from his flank that 40 per cent of Rangers’ attacks flow. The stamina-sapping mission for the Celtic attacker then, signed on a loan-to-permanent deal from Postecoglou’s old club Yokahama F Marinos, will be to constantly get in-and-about Tavernier. Deny him space to tee up crosses when Celtic are out of possession, and look to get in behind the over-lapping defender when they are on the ball. These tasks appear right in Maeda’s wheelhouse judging by how Postecoglou sets out the player’s strengths.
“Obviously I coached Daizen for a year and I knew what I was getting,” said the Celtic manager. “He has this tremendous capacity for work and doing some of the things that are difficult for a lot of footballers to do – not just from a physical perspective but mentally too. He is forever trying to close down opponents. That’s the point of difference between him and a lot of attacking players and it’s why I was so keen to bring him in. It’s no secret I wanted to bring him last summer but with the position Yokohama were in at the time, going for the championship, I knew I would probably not get him until January.
“He is giving everything I expected him to give and there is more there. He is the kind of guy who wants to keep improving. But the appetite he has for pressing the opposition and the physical capacity he has for that – it’s not easy. It’s not just about fitness, it’s about being able to repeat effort and that is something different compared to the other attacking players we have.”
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