Getting back to where we belong

After winning “ugly” at the weekend, Celtic are back at the summit of the Scottish Premiership. Aberdeen’s early season form took everyone by storm but straight defeats in their last four matches has brought a wave of reality crashing down on their title challenge.

Considering the Hoops were said to be in crisis not so long ago by our friends in the media, I’d say that the club are doing better than the football we’re actually seeing suggests. After a 1-0 victory over Motherwell at Fir Park, Celtic are back where they belong.

Regardless of how good or bad things appear to fans or the media, Celtic are the best team in Scotland. I’m not getting carried away with myself or even delusional, it’s just a modern day fact.

Even with a reduction in fortunes, Celtic can still bully themselves into a strong position. For Ronny Deila there is still a lot of hard work to be done though and he knows it.

As well as ensuring Celtic stay top of the league, there are four more games in the Europa League group phase. At this point in the season I’d like to see all of the squad players begin to show their worth, even those who find themselves on the periphery of first team matters.

Some players come out of the traps at the beginning of the season whilst others take longer to find their feet or wait their turn. Now though the honeymoon period is over and there are games to be won and won convincingly.

It’s a marathon not a sprint comes to mind when approaching a football season. The idea behind having a squad is to keep momentum throughout.

With some key players missing for the Molde game this evening, Ronny Deila needs those players who are stepping in, to step up. I’m confident things will improve in this squad and there is more than enough capability in the team, but so far this season Deila has yet to find balance and flow.

There’s a mixture of youth and experience in the squad, but there are fewer stand out players than before. I think we’d all agree in saying that Kris Commons is probably the only guy capable of pulling something special off in a match.

His experience is not to be sniffed at but he is also the wrong side of 30 and not always selected. Of the more youthful breed, one has yet to emerge as ‘special’ but James Forrest has given us a few moments in matches recently so it’s a loss to be without his services this evening.

There are other contenders in the team but they must first find some form and maintain it in order to make a significant impact in the team week in week out. Stefan Johansen looked good when he came to the club in January 2014 and last season he was fantastic.

This season though has been a slow start for him and he puts that down to a back problem. Whether that is true or not, he is not alone in failing to hit the ground running so far.

Gary Mackay-Steven looked good pre-season but as the competitive matches came thick and fast he fell out of the picture. Stuart Armstrong, is another who has yet to emboss himself in the team properly, certainly in the way that many have expected he would.

Still, it is still very early in both ex-Dundee United players Celtic careers having only signed in January this year. The pursuit of both players in that transfer window was most likely to settle them for this season so it is time for them to start demonstrating their worth on the park.

I’d still rather have Celtic investing in proven Scottish players such like Zig and Zag than spending £2M+ on garbage like Pukki and co. Guys like him were ill-advised gambles who we have had a history of under several managers.

The money wasted on these players is bad for business. When you’re stuck with these jokers on three or four year contracts the club end up having to loan them out, flog them for cut prices or just cut their losses.

Whatever claims the club has or had of a good scouting network, it has been tarnished by some atrocious purchases. Fair enough, you don’t always get your buys right and there are occasions when you cannot account for certain areas of a player’s characteristics, psyche etc.

However, some of Celtic’s acquisitions over the last few seasons have been so bad that heads should have rolled. I’d much rather see the club spend over £4-5M on one cracking player than buy some misfiring striker or injury prone winger for £2M.

We have youth in abundance, and can fill our squad with players just as good as some of these punts. Is Callum McGregor more effective in a Celtic jersey than Derk Boerrigter?

No question. That’s just one example though.

In fact I’d rather go out and buy a free scoring Scottish Championship striker than pay for a guy like Teemu Pukki. I mean, what would possess you to buy a player who did little up front in any of his previous clubs when we were crying out for a goalscorer to replace Gary Hooper?

Currently, there is a lot of potential in this squad but they need good motivation and solid tactics. Young managers and players deserve time though and I remain, as ever, faithful through and through.

One player who has had a long wait to show his worth is Tom Rogić. The Australian international’s injuries hampered his opportunities to make the first team but now he is emerging as a key player alongside Nir Bitton and Johansen having been given that chance this season.

It’s encouraging to see a player like him take his opportunity with both hands having had to wait so long. That should be an example to others when addressing their own Celtic careers, particularly tonight in Norway.

Molde will be a familiar foe for Ronny Deila and Stefan Johansen but it won’t be an easy game. Celtic need to get off to the right start and more importantly, take their chances.

The Hoops can keep the ball and move it around. The issue at the moment though has been concentration and focus for the entire match and more importantly, taking those chances when they come along.

Leigh Griffiths is doing a grand job up front but he’s doing it alone. I get that most teams play a lone striker these days but I’m old fashioned.

Two up front might not suit every game but there are times when it will and we need to establish that quicker in games. Play the channels by all means but do it effectively or don’t do it at all.

Molde are now under new, yet familiar management in Ole Gunnar Solskjær. He managed the club a for a few years before his brief stint at Cardiff and now he and Deila will go toe-to-toe once more albeit in a different competition.

Fenerbahçe were stunned in Turkey by Molde after being beaten 3-1 on home turf. That wee surprise has been the only victory in Group A so far.

If Molde were to notch up their second win this evening it would put them in a good position at the half way stage. On the other hand, if Celtic were to surprise us and win in Norway, they would be on level points with Molde.

A draw would not be a disaster but a defeat would allow Ajax or Fenerbahçe the chance to leapfrog Celtic. In terms of luck, Celtic have not had much this season so it would be a welcome boost to get that tonight.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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