On Sunday afternoon, Celtic put Inverness Caledonian Thistle to the sword. It was a fine way to bring the curtain down on a season which has seen Ronny Deila’s team bond and progress.
At first, most people were open minded about Deila and the swiftness of his appointment. Then a failed Champions League campaign changed that.
Some unconvincing domestic displays in the early part of the season added to the Deila doubter’s list of dissatisfaction. If that wasn’t enough, you had the media, including ex-Celtic players, weighing in with their own tuppence worth of bile.
The breakthrough for Ronny was of course the Europa League. It was an ideal competition for a team in transition and kept both the club’s and the fan’s interests in the European scene.
Good performances home and away were encouraging, even if all results weren’t perfect. It was enough to build confidence though and there were signs that some players were beginning to respond to Ronny Deila’s methods.
That kind of positivity started to populate and by November, Celtic finally reached the summit of the Scottish Premiership. Having endured several months of negative media and a portion of the team not performing well enough, the tide was beginning to turn.
There was still a lot of work to be done though. Celtic were under pressure from a few teams and that kept them on their toes throughout the winter.
It was in this period that Celtic really started to gather momentum. Finally, the team was beginning to play like a unit.
Those players who had been out of sorts were emerging from the shadows. Griffith’s, Commons and Bitton were staking a claim and it was a real shot in the arm.
The arrival of Mackay-Steven and Armstrong not only boosted Celtic’s campaign, it ended Dundee United’s. They both slotted into the squad like it was meant to be.
For some Celtic players though, their own personal situations were beginning to look bleak. Guidetti, Tonev, Wakaso and Boerrigter were all fading with varying degrees.
Šćepović was also well out of the picture but his case was somewhat isolated from the rest. He may still have a chance as Sunday’s finale demonstrated.
Later on in the season Forrest emerged from the shadows and made a good contribution to the second half of the season. His injury problems are his only hindrance and only time will tell if he has overcome these.
Another player with injury hell is Lustig. A fine player if ever there is one.
His cameo appearance against Motherwell in January where he scored an amazing double after coming off the bench remains his primary contribution to the season. Deila knows as we all do just how good a player Lustig is and he will want him available for the early Champions League campaign, particularly if he is looking to bolster the back line.
There is still cover there with Ambrose, Matthews, Fisher and Izaguirre. The central defence is the main area of concern though.
If Celtic were to lose both Denayer and van Dijk, they also lose the meanest defence in Scottish Premiership history. Having conceded only 17 goals, that is a huge void to fill.
Part of that defensive success comes down to Gordon’s amazing return to the game as well. If he was considered a gamble when drafted in after years out injured then the pay out has been massive.
Despite the ability to get a bit lonely as a Celtic goalkeeper in some domestic games, like Foster before him, he has pulled off some magnificent saves to keep the Hoops in the game. That ability was on display Europe as well as in the domestic game and it has been a fine season for the big man.
Long-term injured Mulgrew made a late return this season and despite links with clubs in the south, I doubt he’ll be heading for the exit door. He may not be a first pick, but he is a good utility player.
It will be hard to break up the current midfield but he is a big enough character to stay on. Even if Johansen and Brown are the mainstay’s of the midfield there will always be opportunities for Mulgrew to step in there or in the back line.
So where do Celtic need to strengthen? Well that all depends on movements in the current squad.
Should Zaluska go as expected, a backup will be needed. Fasan is as yet untested and it remains to be seen if Deila would be prepared to rely upon the Italian as a suitable stand in.
Central defence is top of the list. If one or both of the current pairing go, the standards will slip so rebuilding that wall and the understanding they created will be a priority, particularly in Europe.
The midfield has a wealth of options. The choices are vast and if anything, Ronny may look at the wide men.
Mackay-Steven is terrific as is Forrest so long as the latter avoids injury. If you are relying upon Forrest as a regular and then gets a bad one, you need a similar outlet.
McGregor was one of Deila’s best players at the beginning of the season and filled the Forrest void for a short time. However, he burned out before Christmas and is currently on the injury list but I don’t know if his purple patch was a flash in the pan.
Stokes, who featured on the left flank and forged a good partnership with Izaguirre earlier in the season is a potential leaver. His off the field story has kept him in the sidelines and his time could be up.
Up front Griffith’s is hit man number one. When he arrived over a year ago, I questioned the validity of his signature.
Despite one or two infractions in his time at the club, he has made me eat my words. His prowess in front of goal has earned him the right to start every game but Ronny will need someone to put pressure on him as well as being able to step in and do the same job.
Šćepović may or may not be that guy but I can’t see the summer passing by without the procurement of another striker. Be that on loan or a permanent deal, you need options in Europe.
The clear out list for Celtic is pretty big and I expect the transfer window to be a busy one. At a glance I expect to see Zaluska, Pukki, Baldé, Boerrigter, Stokes and Friðjónsson to leave.
On loan we’ve had Tonev, Wakaso, Guidetti and Denayer. All four will be gone though I wish Denayer was staying on for another season.
Loaned players McGeouch, Irvine, Henderson, Herron and Findlay are certain to be assessed as the team moves forward. McGeouch is still young but at 22 will want more games and that may only happen away from Celtic.
He has ability, no arguments there but a decision is sure to come over Celtic career. Personally, I can’t see him forcing his way into Ronny’s plans though.
As for the others on that list, I can imagine them on further loan deals. Henderson may be the only one who is retained for squad duty back at Celtic.
One player I’m keen to see more of is Rogić. The Australian joined just over two years ago and showed a lot of promise in those rare appearances.
His loan spell back in his homeland in 2014 did not offer the expected aim. He has had injury to contend with as well but there is every chance he will wear the Hoops next season.
So for Ronny Deila and his back room team, there is further assessment and decision making to be done with the current squad. Some of those decision will already have been made whilst some await the transfer window to open to have their futures decided.
After a short break, it will be back to pre season training for the Hoops. With the Champions League qualifying just seven weeks away the team will be back before your know it.
For now its been a fantastic season for Ronny and the Bhoys. Looking forward to the next one already.