Is Celtic prepared for the season ahead?
Yes and no. Looking at the league, Celtic have more than enough in their ranks to secure their fifth league title in a row but they are still in need of some strengthening.
The goalkeeping and midfield departments are the strongest them have been in recent years, but the defence and strike force is still of some concern. The departures of Jason Denayer [back to parent club Manchester City]and Adam Matthews [to Sunderland]were offset with the arrival of Dedryck Boyata and Saidy Janko [Manchester City and United respectively] – however the left back position is an issue.
Emilio Izaguirre may be good enough for the league and he has put in the odd good performance in Europe from time to time, but already during pre-season he is seen as a liability and was recently dropped in favour of Charlie Mulgrew for the second leg tie against FC Stjarnan and the friendly with Rennes at the weekend. Mulgrew is not the answer in that position and so Celtic need to dip into the transfer market for one and quickly – to make it worse for Celtic they can’t go and tap up the left back at Dundee United as he isn’t good enough either.
There is also the continued threat of Virgil van Dijk being sold – if Celtic do not qualify for the Champions League – but Mikael Lustig could at least fill in that role as a stop gap if needs be as could Charlie Mulgrew.
Another issue is that of the strike force. Leigh Griffiths is seen by many as Celtic’s number one striker, ahead of recent signing Nadir Ciftci, Stefan Scepovic and Anthony Stokes. But with Stokes constantly being linked with a move south of the border, Scepovic doing his best Houdini impression and Ciftci banned for the first six games domestically – Celtic need a bit of quality up front to push Griffiths and Ciftci all the way.
Whatever happens in the signing department, Celtic are ready for the season ahead more so than last season. And with the players knowing what Ronny Deila now expects of them, there should not be any of the early season slip ups that we saw last season.
What signing are you most looking forward to seeing?
Nadir Ciftci is the obvious choice. Can he continue his goalscoring form with Celtic as he did with Dundee United? But my choice would have to be Saidy Janko.
If van Dijk is to leave Celtic Park this summer, that could see Swede Mikael Lustig potentially slot into central defence alongside Dedryck Boyata – if he stays fit. This could free up the right back slot for Janko and given what I have seen of him already he is a direct, strong and attack minded full back. A player that Celtic fans love to watch in full flow down the wings.
I will certainly not be comparing him to Celtic legends gone by, but he looks an exciting young prospect and hopefully he will get his time to shine this season. Officials and fans at Manchester United thought highly of the kid and if was good enough for them then he should do alright at Celtic Park.
It has to be Scott Brown. I may have got it drastically wrong a few years back when I said that Brown brought nothing to the table at Celtic and was surplus to requirements – yes even I can get things wrong. But he has proven to me and his other critics that he is an integral part of Celtic Football Club.
He leads from the front, gets stuck in and doesn’t shy away from the opposition who try to bully their way through Celtic’s ranks. He may have calmed down his hot and temperamental image when he played at Hibs and in the early days at Celtic, but with maturity brings experience and a football brain that inspires those around him.
Celtic saw last season without Brown – who was injured for the Champions League qualifiers – they were missing his leadership, his drive and determination in the middle of the park. When he returned to full fitness, Celtic and the players around him benefited from it and while there were still slip ups along the way – Brown led Celtic to their fourth title in a row.
Once again, Brown will be called upon this season to lead from the front once more and at the age of 30, he will be looking to secure as much success as the remainder of his playing career with afford him.
From time to time Celtic’s central defence is seen as the weakest link, but I will have to point at the left back position. Emilio Izaguirre has been a great servant of the club, but with no competition for his place the Honduran has failed to match or better season 2010-11 when he won Players’ Player of the Year Award and Scottish Football Writers player of the year.
Since then he has been a shadow of his former self, is this down to the broken ankle he suffered in the second match of the 2011-12 season against Aberdeen – which saw him ruled out for nearly half the season – or is it simply down to him being comfortable in the notion that he would be picked for the time no matter what he did?
Either way Celtic’s left back position is a problem and it needs addressing in the next week or so.
How would you rate Ronny Deila and can he improve upon last year?
When Deila was appointed as Celtic manager – I was one among many who said who? However, I was not one of those who slated him for being a nobody – as so many did. This was in part helped by talking to Scotzine’s resident Norwegian football expert Christian Wulff, who waxed lyrical about the man, and so afforded him the benefit of the doubt.
Despite a shaky few months where every Tom, Dick and Harry had Deila’s head on the chopping block, he began to turn things around and ‘chipgate’ was soon a distant memory. Yes the Scottish media had a hard-on for reporting how the Celtic dressing room was in chaos as they could no longer eat chips!
Looking back on those who were linked with the job, Deila was in my opinion the best and the most influential appointment.
He has brought a new found love of the game to Celtic both on and off the pitch. He has built up a rapport with the Celtic fans – with many of those wanting him sacked after five games thinking he is the bees knees now and would not trade him for anyone.
Can he improve on last season? Of course he can. In any walk of life you should strive to better yourself than the year gone by and if you listened to Deila’s conference speech that did the rounds last season – then you will learn that the Norwegian isn’t a man to rest on his laurels either.
The fans and Deila alike will be looking to do better domestically, but more importantly do significantly better in Europe.
Anyone or any club you are worried about that may cause problems for you?
Domestically, Celtic are the only ones who would cause problems for themselves. It may be disrespectful to the other teams in the league and Scottish football as a whole – but when Celtic are not playing at their best then that invites the opposition to take the game to them.
Aberdeen in the Premiership will be a thorn in the side of Celtic, but after last season’s clean sweep against the Pittodrie side – they won’t worry the team, the manager or the fans alike. But that doesn’t stop the nerves jangling on match day or when Aberdeen are on the attack.
In Europe, Celtic’s historical pedigree counts for nothing, any side can cause problems for Celtic whether they are a Scandinavian side, Eastern European or a club from one of the big Five leagues in European football.
Finances in Scottish football and Celtic working to a strict business plan should give the fans a reality check. Some of these so-called minnows of European football can outspend Celtic in the transfer department both in transfer fees and in wages and with the tough working visas that British football clubs need to work within the confines of – it adds to Celtic’s problems when facing any European side.
Expectations for this season?
Expectations are always high at Celtic. No matter who is manager or the players at their disposal, Celtic fans will always demand the championship title, along with domestic cup wins. Can they secure the treble this season? Only time will tell, but given the way that last season’s potential treble was snatched away from them with Josh Meekings’ goal line handball and subsequently Craig Gordon being sent off – that event could prove the catalyst for Celtic going out all guns blazing to secure their first domestic treble since season 2000-01 under then manager Martin O’Neill.
That just goes to show how difficult it is for anyone to win the treble – without ploughing tens of millions of the banks money into the club and racking up huge debt in the process.
What was the highlight of last season?
If I had to pick just one game it would have to be Celtic’s first leg home tie against Inter Milan. Celtic were 2-0 down by the 12th minute thanks to some poor goalkeeping and shoddy defending, but by the half hour mark Celtic were level thanks to two goals from then-new signing Stuart Armstrong.
Craig Gordon – in what was his worst performance in a Celtic jersey – handed Inter Milan their third goal of the game just before half time. But a dramatic 93rd minute equaliser from Swedish striker John Guidetti was a moment to savour.
Sadly Inter got their own back in the return leg as they scored an 88th minute goal to secure a 1-0 win in Italy and with that qualification to the last 16 of the competition.
What was the low point?
Other than the Scottish Cup semi final defeat to Inverness Caledonian Thistle and the way that game transpired, it would have to be Celtic’s Champions League qualifying campaign.
Legia Warsaw were far superior to Celtic in every way and the qualifiers came far too early for new manager Ronny Deila – but despite having an experienced side at his disposal – the Celtic players looked as if they were hungover for much for that campaign.
When Legia Warsaw balls’d up their administration process, they were rightly punished for it and yet Celtic were painted as the bad guys not only in the Scottish game but also in Europe and beyond. And when Maribor knocked Celtic out once again, it seemed as though Celtic were knocked out as some form of justice to Legia Warsaw – when it was simply down to the fact that Celtic were not good enough and Maribor were far superior.
The disappointment of the Champions League exit was somewhat forgotten about – at least by Celtic fans – as they progressed to the knock out stages of the Europa League before a goal by Fredy Guarin two minutes from time in the second leg of the last 32 tie with Inter Milan, saw Celtic exit 4-3 on aggregate.
If only Craig Gordon hadn’t decided to have his worst game in a Celtic jersey against them, Celtic could have potentially reached the last 16 of the competition – as that Inter side were far from superior.
Who will win the Premiership?
Celtic have got too much depth and quality throughout their side to throw away what would be their fifth title in a row. Celtic will be crowned Premiership champions once more.
Who will be relegated?
Always a tough one to predict. But you could look towards Hamilton Accies under Martin Canning – given the way they played after the departure of Alex Neil to Norwich City. You can always look towards Kilmarnock and with an influx of ex-Rangers veterans they could be lured back to the Championship sooner rather than later.
My money is on Hamilton Accies to go down though. They had a great first half of the season, but it seems that Martin Canning – with all respect to him – cannot fill the shoes of the departed Alex Neil.