Season’s end: Can Celtic write another piece of history at Hampden?

So Celtic lost to Aberdeen, Hibs drew with Rangers and Kilmarnock broke Hearts on the last day of the Scottish Premiership 2017-2018. There are lots of talking points about this season, but firstly let’s revel in the fact Celtic are Champions once more.

The Hoops scooped their 7th title in a row with little difficulty. Though let’s be honest, this hasn’t exactly been a season of scintillating performances.

It may sound to some as though I’m being fickle, but you can’t really argue because most of us are thinking the same. Enough was done to win, but on many an occasion only just.

Brendan managed to keep most of the band together from the invincible season. Or at least, those of whom he wanted to keep including Kolo Toure as a coach.

That wasn’t the issue for Celtic though. Between injuries, individual and team performances, the Hoops misfired far too often.

“This is all part of the game”, I hear you say. Well yes, but most of us have been concerned by what we’ve seen or rather haven’t seen lately.

In quite a lot of games, Celtic played in low gear and at times been punished. And yet, in amongst all of that there have been some excellent individual performances.

Craig Gordon has been good even though he suffered an injury setback in January. Dodgy de Vries stepped in so I was pleased when we acquired Scott Bain on loan and recently signed a permanent deal.

Kieran Tierney put in another assured season despite looking a bit tired at times. He even managed 4 goals, 11 assists and wore the captain’s armband – not bad for a 20-year-old left back.

Kristoffer Ajer took his chance this season at the heart of defence after a short loan spell at Kilmarnock last year in the same role. He has stood out among the more experienced central defenders at the club and announced a new four-year deal with the club on Monday.

Scott Brown has been fantastic and scooped all the awards without a goal to his name but he did manage 3 assists according to one football statistical source despite him suggesting that he hadn’t. His presence in the team has been essential and as ever a tireless performer for Brendan Rodgers with more years left in that engine as well.

Callum McGregor has proven himself again, putting to bed all of his critics once and for all hopefully. Since Ronny Deila handed him his first team debut four years ago against KR Reykjavik, he has had his detractors but he has delivered the goods this season weighing in with 11 goals and 8 assists, coming close to his debut season in first team football with Notts County.

Last summer’s new signing, Olivier Ntcham also proved some early critics wrong. After his £4.5M move from Manchester City great expectations were made of the 22-year-old midfielder.

There may have been one or two wonky performances at most, but he has been an excellent acquisition. His range of passing has been top drawer and he’s even provided 8 goals and 6 assists.

Also with 8 goals from the midfield is Tom Rogic. Although in a more advanced position he hasn’t had the game time others have had.

Yet he has still produced the goods at key times. His timing, first touch and close control are perfection which is why he has also provided 9 assists for his team mates.

And he is the latest to pen a new contract with the club. This five-year deal is like a new signing and firmly bats away the speculation around his future.

The Wizard of Aus will be around for some time yet. Great news for us, but bad news for the opposition.

This season’s surprise performer was James Forrest. Not because he isn’t capable, but because we’re so used to him missing half a season through form or injury.

Not only did he start the season well, but he was consistent throughout the entire campaign and avoided injury. He has been in devastating form.

With 17 goals and 10 assists, he has been a key player for Brendan Rodgers this season. Given the long-term injury to Paddy Roberts and his expected return to Manchester City this summer, it’s just as well Forrest is on fire – no pun intended.

Up front Celtic had three strikers to choose from though rarely ever at the same time. However, they still amassed a glut of goals and assists despite none of them holding down the position for entire season.

Leigh Griffiths produced 13 goals and 8 assists, whilst Odsonne Edouard came up with 11 goals and 4 assists. Moussa Dembele rediscovered some of last seasons form and just edged Griffiths on the stats with 16 goals and 8 assists.

Amazingly, Scott Sinclair has topped Celtic’s stat charts this season with 18 goals and 17 assists. Not bad for a guy who has practically been an empty jersey.

Whether it is confidence, itchy feet or personal issues he needs to have a look at his performances this season. Let’s hope he gets back to the form we witnessed in the invincible season.

That isn’t the whole story of course. We’ve had another very long and tiring campaign.

The unbeaten domestic run from last season continued until December last year which at the time I said was like a millstone around everyone’s neck. Up until then Celtic looked leggy and uninspiring.

We also endured another early start to the season with Champions League qualifying beginning back in 14th July 2017. By the time the domestic campaign had started, Celtic had already played six friendlies and four Champions League qualifiers.

Europe wasn’t exactly the hunting ground we had hoped for. It was tough getting to the group phase and when we did we faced the group of death.

And yet we did progress past the group phase and parachuted into the last 32 of the Europa League. That may not seem like progress, but it was further than the season before. so that has to count for something right?

Next season Celtic will now have to navigate four rounds before they even get near the group phase of the Champions League though. I’ve got my own thoughts on just how unbalanced that passage is for a team that actually won their league, but I’ll save that subject for another time.

So perhaps not a glorious run, but we tasted European football once again after Christmas. It had been three years since Celtic played at that stage in the competition, ironically suffering at the hands of the same opposition manager.

Roberto Mancini presided over the defeat to Celtic in 2015 with Inter Milan. This year he did the same with Zenit St Petersburg.

Much to think about for Brendan Rodgers and his players, but an invaluable experience for this squad which they can only learn from. We must be stronger next season in personnel and in tactical deployment.

And that isn’t far away because the First Qualifying Round is less than two months away. At that time the World Cup will only be at the semi-final stages though hopefully Celtic won’t have too many away on duty.

Cristian Gamboa and Mikael Lustig are both confirmed in their respective countries World Cup squads. Tom Rogic is in the preliminary squad for Australia but is likely to be in the final squad.

In all honesty, Celtic can cope without those players for that cross over period and will have to. The fact is Lustig and Rogic are the only two I rate.

Boyata has missed out on the Belgium squad which for me is all you need to know. He fueled speculation of a move recently when questioned on his contract expiry.

These things are often taken of context though. So who knows where he’ll be – most likely with us!

Gamboa on the other hand is a total waste. He’s barely seen the light of day so hopefully somebody will buy the poor sod after the World Cup.

I’d happily move him on along with a few others such as Dorus de Vries, Jozo Simunovic, Scott Allan, Kundai Benyu and Nadir Ciftci – they are clearly not in the plans. There’s still many who think Stuart Armstrong, Erik Sviatchenko, Nir Bitton, Marvin Compper and even Ryan Christie should go but I’m not so certain their Celtic careers are over yet.

The one name that is always on the lips of the media is Moussa Dembele. Ever since he started banging in the goals he’s been linked with every club south of the border.

He is still here though and will probably still be here next season. Had he been a part of the France senior team by now it’s possible he’d get snapped up but he has yet to advance from the under 21 side.

On the loan front, Charly Musonda has returned to Chelsea one year early. Shame we couldn’t have seen more of him, but it frees up funds for someone else.

Paddy Roberts is unlikely to be that man. His loan is up and after an injury hampered season, a permanent deal does not look likely now.

If any loan is likely to become permanent it is Odsonne Edouard’s. He’s has proven himself worthy of a deal.

With Dembele likely to go in the next six to twelve months this guy would be a sound investment. Let’s hope we can make that happen.

Now with one game left some Celtic players will want to add to their season tally or put themselves in the shop window. A piece of personal glory in the Scottish Cup Final is always a huge motivator.

Will one of our free scoring midfield men be looking toward goal? Or will one of our attacking players be on their toes?

Rogic is a big game player and will have something to say I’m sure. Then there’s Forrest who might want to pip Sinclair to being top scorer.

Similarly, Dembele is almost as close and more likely to succeed if he’s on form. Let’s not forget about Griffiths though and his ambition to score his 99th and 100th Celtic goal before the season comes to a close.

Whoever takes to the field of play for Celtic, history could be made. Motherwell won’t allow Celtic to have it all their way though.

They’ll want to exorcise their defeat by us at the League Cup Final so we will need to work hard. I’ve been impressed by Motherwell this season along with Kilmarnock and Hibernian.

The real shame is that these teams haven’t always replicated their performances against Celtic when playing any other team in Scotland. If they had, they might have pushed Aberdeen and Rangers even further.

So our day in the Hampden sun awaits. Seize the moment Celtic and savour every passing minute.

Come Saturday, we may be writing another record in the history books.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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