Yesterday’s draw at Parkhead has left Celtic fans feeling rather dismayed. In truth, the game should have been put beyond Rangers’ reach before half time with three great chances being spurned. This gave Rangers heart for the second half and had it not been for Craig Gordon’s reflexes then we would be feeling a hell of a lot worse. Things should be kept in perspective. We are 11 points ahead of Rangers with 22 games played so we are still in pole position.
Rangers aren’t the first team to come to Parkhead this season and leave with a point. The worry is that teams now know to press us in our 18 yard box when our goalkeeper has possession. They then let Boyata have possession as he is perceived as the weak link when we have the ball and our problems start from there. The fans get restless and this cascades down to the players who then become nervous in possession and are then prone to make mistakes. The dilemma for Brendan Rodgers is now to find a plan B to get around this when it happens. Teams are sussing out how to play against us even in Scotland.
The current midfield is also very lightweight. Successive games against Rangers at Parkhead have been played in inclement weather and on a heavy pitch. On both occasions our midfield, with the honourable exception of Scott Brown, has flagged and looked heavy legged as the games have wore on. It’s maybe time to re-introduce Biton into the midline or even Kouassi, who we never see or hear of.
This season was always going to be something of an anti climax. The joy and drama of the last campaign, culminating in the big Lisbon anniversary celebrations were a thing of wonder. To repeat that this time round was always going to prove difficult.
The winter break is now upon us and sees Celtic as League Cup winners, eight points ahead of our nearest challenger in the SPL and looking forward to playing Zenit in the Europa league. All the objectives from the summer have been achieved thus far and that is something we should be given a great deal of credit for.
Two things have caused us problems recently. First is exhaustion. Be in no doubt our players are knackered. If we fans are honest, we are suffering from fatigue as well. There were nine games crammed into a 28 day spell in December, meaning that we were playing a game every three days or so. That takes it toll and both players and supporters are now drained and desperately in need of re-charging. The other problem is that the team are still a bit fragile after the seven goal hammering they took in Paris. A severe doing is never a good thing and that has dented our confidence somewhat. It may take time to get that fully out of our system.
Brendan now has some serious player issues, probably for the first time since becoming manager. With Rogic and Roberts injured, it’s a concern how one dimensional the team are without them. A player who can add some much needed creativity would be a welcome addition in January.
There will also be some departures. Last season, Dembele, Simunevic and Armstrong were tremendous performers. This term Dembele and Simunevic have shown that they can’t be relied upon to play enough games. There remains a suspicion that they are fit for the bigger games but not necessarily for the cold midweek trips to the likes of Dingwall when Brown, Lustig and Tierney are left to carry the team with their consistent performances. Dembele looks overweight and carrying an ego. There is no doubt Peter Lawwell will be looking to cash in on both during the weeks ahead. As for Armstrong, he didn’t exactly show a great deal of commitment in the summer with a paltry one year contract extension, so if his heart is not in it then he can go also.
As always, Celtic’s biggest problem will be who we get to bring in. I have no doubt we go after a whole host of good players during every transfer window. The concern is that players of a certain class don’t want to come to the backwaters of the SPFL even although we have a lot to offer. Even players who do want to come will price themselves out of our market with exorbitant wage requests. The frustrating thing is that we do have money to spend. Celtic should consider investing the Virgil Van Dyke windfall in claiming Paddy Roberts from Manchester City on a permanent basis. Roberts has only been truly appreciated since he has been out with injury and we can then fully appreciate the talents we have missed. Paddy is an entertainer and Celtic should always have a player of that calibre in their line up.
What Celtic don’t need is any more squad players. The likes of Morgan and Hendry are seen as future projects but right now we need at least two genuine class players who will walk into the team without any debate. However, these types of player will be hard to come by but it is hoped that the club can make the necessary signings we need.
So, as we look towards 2018, we can do so with both confidence and anticipation. In reflection, 2017 was a momentous year. Action is now required though; January will be a busy month for both Brendan Rodgers and Peter Lawwell. Back to back trebles have never been achieved before in Scottish football. That is one target, at least, that we should be aiming for. Let’s do it.
A happy new year to one and all.