A case for the defence

Celtic go into today’s Scottish League Cup tie off the back of a disappointing spell. Transfers, results, injuries and a contract rebel all playing their part in the club drama right now.

On successive Friday’s though, the club have signed two players. Last week Emilio Izaguirre returned to the ranks and yesterday the club officially announced Daniel Arzani on loan from Manchester City for two years.

Izzy is a no brainer as Brendan did not have ample cover for Kieran Tierney since the Honduran international departed in 2017. Now he does and also knows what he’s getting into the bargain so today he will make his comeback against Partick Thistle in place of the injured Tierney.

The acquisition of Arzani hasn’t exactly been a secret, but has also understandably raised questions from the supporters. New recruits are required but not necessarily for this type of player.

Yet I’m certain this kid will make an impact and it’s a positive nonetheless because we are without Patrick Roberts for the first time in over two years. These last couple of weeks have been damaging for everyone at the club as well as our fans.

This is a time when we need to show strength of character and determination to get back on course. Perhaps the timing of Arzani’s arrival will be significant for our fortunes.

The young Aussie won’t solve all of our issues. Maybe he will dazzle us and provide the team with a much needed spark.

Sometimes you need that. We must repair the damage of the last fortnight though.

High on that agenda is getting shot of Dedryck Boyata. The contract rebel is quite clearly heading for the exit.

Did he ever intend to extend his contract or did his agent utilise the World Cup for a bigger payday? It doesn’t matter anymore.

We need to move him on now. If Celtic did indeed turn down £9M for the Belgian they must have pinned their hopes on him either signing a new deal or receiving a bigger follow-up bid.

Personally I don’t believe he’s even worth that price. That being the case, Celtic have been very sloppy here and they should have bitten Fulham’s hand off.

Now we have a guy who will probably never wear the Hoops again. Potentially we may also have missed out on a multi-million pound fee.

Right now clubs overseas will be wondering whether to hold out until January. Meantime Boyata will rot in the development side.

I’m sure something will be ratified soon to get him off our books but I can’t see it being as big as £9M. It will probably less now that everyone knows we have an unhappy player and a club that want rid.

Celtic will also need to live with that situation. A situation that could have been better handled.

Where does that leave Brendan Rodgers defensively then? No better.

Like them or not we now have at least two players for every defensive position. I said before that we wouldn’t sign another central defender until we got shot of one.

Well, when Boyata goes that’s our chance. Brendan needs to bring order to his defence pronto.

It should have been a priority when he came on board. Instead he tried to utilise what he had.

Kolo Toure was his only central defensive acquisition in 2016. Even then, that was more for the dressing room than on the park.

I don’t think that was a bad move because at that stage he was evaluating what he had. Sometimes older players can be influential, but that doesn’t escape the fact we have been shoddy in defence ever since we lost Virgil van Dijk and Jason Denayer.

Conversely, Denayer’s name has cropped up on more than one occasion recently about a return to the club. I think we can safely say if he really wanted to come back to Celtic it would have happened a long time ago but it now seems he will be moving to Lyon anyway.

Celtic’s scouting team need to pinpoint a player of good quality who will come in and steady the ship. A player who isn’t injury prone, work-in-progress or in the advent of their career – we already have each of those on our books.

I’m satisfied that Kris Ajer and Jack Hendry will continue to improve this season, but it is also unfair to place all of our hopes on two young guys, particularly in Europe. Jozo Simunovic is a very good player on his day but prone to injury especially on artificial surfaces, whilst the ageing Marvin Compper hasn’t even got his Celtic career under way yet.

It’s a far from ideal situation and doesn’t make anyone look good. You could say we’ve been a bit unfortunate, but it also looks as though bad choices have been made internally.

At right back we have three players vying for a place. After this season, Mikael Lustig and Cristian Gamboa will be out of contract and if either of them stay they will be lucky.

So a long-term replacement still needs to be scouted because Anthony Ralston is another work in progress for the club. It may not happen this summer but the work needs to be done now.

Brendan Rodgers is well equipped from the midfield forward, but it is these defensive areas that remain a concern. After today’s relatively risk free fixture, Celtic travel to Lithuania to face FK Suduva in the Europa League play-off.

The coincidence of this European tie is remarkable. It was another Northern Irish Celtic manager in his third season that faced FK Suduva immediately after dropping out of the Champions League sixteen years ago.

Having lost out to FC Basel on the away goals rule, Celtic dropped into the UEFA Cup in 2002. That was the beginning of the road to Seville in 2003.

Now I’m not about to suggest that Celtic are on the road to Baku. As much as I would love that, this is only a play-off.

Get past Suduva and we have European football guaranteed until Christmas. At this stage in the season I would be happy with that.

The one coincidence I would like to avoid from Martin O’Neill’s third season is of course the fact that we won nothing at all. That doesn’t even bear thinking about.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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