It’s time Celtic emerged from this gloom

A treble is probably not on the minds of many Celtic fans. With the way in which the season has started for Brendan and the Bhoys, the league is always the priority.

In the last two seasons we’ve been the proud recipients of trebles. Tonight’s encounter with St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park in the League Cup is the second test for Celtic this season as to whether they will remain in the hunt for a third treble in a row.

My thoughts on this are simple. I can’t see another treble on the cards this season, even if we do win tonight.

Every team in Scotland is keen to have a bite of Celtic’s flesh right now. With our fortunes on the park experiencing a difficult period I find it’s hard to envision a domestic clean sweep.

Last season, the cracks were already showing with certain players and we managed to pull off a double treble. This season will be hugely difficult in my eyes.

Scott Sinclair was so far off the pace last season he was eventually and rightfully dropped. He seems to have continued in that vein into the current campaign though the season is still young.

There were numerous injuries to our strikers, barely allowing us to have all three available at any one time. Of course, that number has dropped to two since we sold one on deadline day.

However, there are other factors at play. Such as our very unsettled defence.

Injuries and inexperience appear to be the top issues for Brendan’s current crop of defenders. Kris Ajer has demonstrated himself as a good work in progress.

Dedryck Boyata has helped settle things in defence again after a fall out over the summer. Though the recent defeat to Kilmarnock may change opinions on that.

Many have levelled abuse at Jack Hendry. I feel the guy has been a bit unlucky and has time on his side to improve.

Cristian Gamboa looked to be getting a look in earlier in the season only to dropped for Mikael Lustig. The former showed promise earlier in the summer, but the latter has taken back his slot much to the disappointment of many in our fan base.

Filip Benkovic has so far looked good. Having pulled up in the warm up against Killie, he finds himself on the sidelines for now.

Further down the pecking order is Jozo Simunovic. The injury prone player once looked to be better than Boyata, but now it seems he is well out of the picture.

Not as far out of the picture as Marvin Compper though. Will we even see him play again?

I’m glad that the one area we do look sorted for in defence is on the left hand side. Kieran Tierney is our number one left-sided defender and it pleases me to know that Emilio Izaguirre is also there to supply some back up.

Overall we are nowhere near secure or settled. We must establish a solid back line by personnel changes or tactics (or both).

The midfield also has a responsiblity to protect the back three or four, but they have not done so particularly effective way of late. Though some might argue that the defence should be able to hold its own.

Well, it certainly isn’t the only role the midfield have. They are also responsible for retention and progression up the park – the engine room.

If that fails then their role becomes a key problem in the overall game plan. Many have criticised the midfield for playing the square ball on match days recently and not being quick or intuitive enough to unlock the opposition.

And who could argue? However, this has been evident going way back.

Most of Celtic’s domestic opponents will sit in, home or away so more often than not they do find themselves passing the ball from side to side. We can’t use this as an excuse though.

It is up to the team and the manager to find a way past that. We will only do so whilst we are in the right frame of mind and have that killer instinct.

The job at hand is to alter the mindset that currently seems to be affecting those performances. And Brendan is beginning to sound more positive in the last 24 hours which is good news.

Among some of the more concerning quotes chosen by Brendan of late, he has come out in the last couple of days with some more positive stuff. One such comment was to deal with the mutterings from Kris Boyd.

The Kilmarnock player had suggested there was a dressing room divide at Celtic. I was in the middle of typing a blog yesterday based on Boyd’s comments (as well as Peter Grant’s media comments about jealousy within Celtic) when Brendan came out and addressed it himself.

So I shelved that blog and enjoyed the words of our manager instead. He said, “Kris is probably best suited trying to get himself into the Kilmarnock team and get back playing and we will concentrate on our own job in here.”

Smashing. Just the right balance of a put down and professional reply.

Boyd was way off the mark. As I was beginning to write myself at that time, I got no impression at all there was a divide in the dressing room.

A cloud, yes. Not a divide.

We’ve had them before and we know what they look like. This isn’t one of them.

And as Brendan also mentioned, the challenge is to overcome this bad start. The fact that he is talking about that whilst still enjoying the challenges at the club shows he is already on the case.

Enough people have been having their say in the media. Most of it baloney.

Brendan appears focussed on the task. Everyone will be watching tonight with great interest.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

 

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Alarming

Should Celtic fans be alarmed? “Yes I think they should.”

Before the match kicked off, I knew it’d be a tough test for Celtic. Kilmarnock have been a decent opponent under Steve Clarke, but a potential banana skin when the Bhoys are off the boil.

Well, Celtic are off the boil and on Sunday they lost to a hungrier side. If that is to become the common denominator for this season then the coaching staff and players need to have a sit down right now.

As supporters we watched as a summer of discontent unfolded. We’ve endured that and been expected to continue supporting the team, but so far we are no better for it.

Where is the passion, spark, flare and precision of a team at the top? I could understand if the well has dried up I don’t believe it has.

On their day Celtic are still the best team in Scotland. The current signs suggest complacency and resting on laurels and this was evident last season even though a second treble was bagged.

There is still plenty of talent in this team. We know that because Brendan Rodgers found it from the same group of players that his predecessor could not.

So what’s wrong? Is it the players or the management team?

Is Brendan’s disappointment at the transfer window spilling into the dressing room? Have the Dembele, McGinn and Boyata fiascos caused deeper wounds, yet to heal?

What we can be sure of is that we are not firing on all cylinders. The mood is telling.

Earlier in the summer Celtic had a spring in their step. We were even talking about two up top.

Now that all seems to have gone to the wall. And for no obvious reason.

I wrote over the summer about strengthening from a position of strength. I’m not the only one of course – it was on all of our minds.

Celtic Football Club often appear satisfied to sit back when they are ahead. I’ve never seen them under any ownership turn the screw on the opposition in any era.

There is clearly a need for a challenge in Scottish football. Is it really necessary to do it by dropping the ball though?

I’m taking nothing away from those who have gotten results off the Celtic. They earned it and has a positive effect on entertainment value for the neutral and those not of a Celtic persuasion as well as making “good headlines.”

My concern is that Celtic are standing still to let the rest catch up. Meantime we look on as the team fails to entertain, get results or rewards.

I want competition back in the sport for sure. Must we do so by throwing it all away?

Celtic aren’t flowing on the park right. Off the park there don’t appear to be any clear reasons as to why that is either.

Some might say we’ve been spoiled. An invincible debut season, two Champions League Group Stages and a double treble.

Something other teams in Scotland can only dream of. And yet right now we look like a shadow of all that.

I don’t think it is unreasonable for Celtic fans to expect better. The expectation is to win every game and when you drop points you are disappointed.

The challenge for Brendan Rodgers is to get Celtic out of this rut. The challenge is a self-inflicted one as far as I can see.

I still don’t believe there is a team out there capable of overthrowing Celtic right now. I still think Celtic will win the league, but right now it is one ugly-looking effort by the Bhoys.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Leigh, Leigh, super Leigh

Celtic’s Europa League group stage campaign got underway in Glasgow on Thursday night. There were no slip-ups, but we had to wait until the 87th minute to score the only goal of the game.

Whilst dominant, the performance yielded very little in the way of conviction in the final third of the field. The word “flat” has been used a lot to describe Celtic’s play and they did very little to change that opinion against familiar opposition.

Rosenborg are a capable side, but they’re nothing special. We knew this because we’d already played them twice this summer already.

I expected more from both teams, but I’m not quite sure what. Unforced errors, sloppiness and a lack of urgency was evident but whatever spark Celtic lack right now it needs to come from within their own ranks.

This was a game Celtic should have won more convincingly. The stats will show that they bossed it, but it wasn’t until the arrival of Leigh Griffiths that we would witness the killer instinct absent for the majority of the game.

Odsonne Edouard had been shy all night. Eventually he would be replaced by Griffiths in the 76th minute.

The move, and subsequent winner, came 11 minutes later. A long ball forward by Scott Brown to Dedryck Boyata was knocked down for Leigh Griffiths in acres of space who glanced home an intelligent header off the ground and past the Rosenborg keeper.

Route one football. Game over.

Relief and jubilation. Lessons to be learned as well.

It wasn’t working up front all game and the change was late on in the game. Two up top may have been the better choice, but that’s Brendan’s call.

As Chris Sutton said in commentary, this was by far Celtic’s easiest group stage tie. They almost threw it away as well.

Celtic got lucky here. They won’t get so lucky against Salzburg or Leipzig.

Those teams slugged it out in Germany on Thursday night as well. Salzburg won 2-3 away with a winner in the 89th minute of regulation time.

Celtic top the group after matchday one. The next Euro encounter will be much tougher, you can be sure of that.

A tricky away tie at Kilmarnock awaits Brendan and the Bhoys on Sunday. Freshening up the personnel could be in order for that one.

This will be the third of six games during a busy spell for Celtic. Also a good time to utilise the squad accordingly.

European football is the level of entertainment we crave every season. Domestic success is our bread and butter though.

With Hearts making a 100% winning start in the league and Rangers getting a good result in their opening Europa League group stage match, this season is already showing signs that it isn’t just about Celtic any more. Other Scottish teams are attracting attention and fair play to them.

Between now and the end of the season we’ll see which clubs are still in the fight. That includes Celtic.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

The European campaign starts now!

Celtic returned to action last Friday with a rather dull 0-0 draw with St Mirren. Now, almost a week later, they welcome Rosenborg for the second time this season to Celtic Park.

Both sides met in the Champions League qualifiers with Celtic emerging as winners over the two legs. Following Celtic’s exit from the Champions League in the following round at the hands of AEK Athens, the Scottish and Norwegian champions have now been grouped together with Salzburg and Leipzig in Group B of the Europa League.

The opposition may not appear as challenging as those you might find in a Champions League group. However, I would say that the only team that Celtic are definitely better than are Rosenborg.

Leipzig finished 6th in the Bundesliga and make up one of the seven German teams competing in Europe this season. This is only their second ever season in Europe and so far have made an impact.

Last season they automatically qualified for the Champions League, their first venture into Europe. They finished 3rd behind Besiktas and Porto but ahead of Monaco in their Group.

Having parachuted into the Europa League like Celtic, they beat Napoli on away goals in the last 32, won on aggregate over Celtic’s conquerors, Zenit Saint Petersburg in the last 16, only to be halted by Marseille in the Quarter Finals. Not a bad debut season in Europe if you ask me.

This season they have had one less round to navigate in qualifying than Celtic. The other difference being that all of their qualifiers have been in the Europa League, winning three legs and drawing three.

Salzburg are the seeded team in this group and have a much longer history playing Europe. Last season they made an impressive run in the Europa League all the way to the Semi Finals losing out to Leipzig’s conquerors, Marseille.

So as you can see, Celtic have their work cut out for them. Other than tonight’s visitors they are looking at opponents that have demonstrated an ability to go further in Europe.

That has to be something both Brendan Rodgers and Celtic Football Club have to aspire to. Having lost two good players over the summer, Celtic have recruited.

What has to be seen this season is a demonstration that the guys the club have invested in, no matter how much or how little they cost, are up to the job. The team is down in numbers, but that was the objective wasn’t it?

The question is do we have the right blend of youth and experience? Well, Brendan has left some senior players out of his UEFA squad.

Celtic’s B list is a squad of home-grown players, some of which are either first teams regulars already like Kiernan Tierney or those trying to make an impact such as Mikey Johnston. The A list consists of senior players and that is where you realise who is in the picture and who is not.

There were some omissions from that group which whilst are understandable, do leave you wondering why these players are still here. Nir Bitton was out injured for much of 2018 and so far has failed to get back into the team so it is not a total surprise that he has been left out of the European squad for the time being.

Dorus de Vries has slid down the pecking order for goalkeepers to the point where I imagine even Conor Hazard is ahead of him. With Scott Bain second to Craig Gordon it was unsurprising that de Vries was not included in this squad.

I fully expected Scott Allan to have left the club this summer and doesn’t appear to have a look in under Brendan Rodgers, as his UEFA squad reflects. As many others have stated, it is perhaps the McGinn debacle that scuppered any possible move to Hibs where he played some of last season on loan.

Kundai Benyu made two appearance for Celtic last season only to be farmed out on loan in January 2018 to Oldham Athletic. He hasn’t shown any sign of making the grade as yet and finds himself on the periphery of first team football.

Perhaps the two surprise omissions were Marvin Compper and Daniel Arzani. Neither player has really played for the Celtic first team, but their arrivals were suggested as key moves.

Arzani’s loan move to Celtic was no secret. It had been emblazoned all over the media for weeks.

When the young Australian World Cup player’s name was left out of the Europa League team I was bewildered. Sure, it’s Brendan’s call who is ready and who is not, but I don’t think I am alone in thinking he’d be included because he would probably be ready in the weeks ahead even if he is not now.

Compper of course arrived at the club in the January transfer window of this year. His only contribution so far at Celtic have been 83 minutes against Morton in the Scottish Cup Quarter Final which included a near calamity by the German.

Injuries have meant missing out on almost 20 games for Celtic since his arrival. Now it only appears to be the pecking order that has meant him being left out of first team matters.

You have to wonder if he’ll be seen at all this season. The only thing Compper can hope for is a change in fortunes between now and the end of his contract.

Unlike de Vries and Allan, who are now in their final year and time is almost certainly up, Compper has two years left. Arzani’s loan and Bitton’s contract run until 2020 whilst Benyu’s runs until in 2021.

With six senior players not making the UEFA squad, it shows that there are still some players with no future at the club. Between youth and experience, the idea is that you can provide a squad that balances out across the age spectrum.

The question is does Brendan currently have the quality that he desires to move forward? Well, we’ll see just how well we are clicking in Europe this evening at home to Rosenborg.

Celtic won 3-1 on 25th July against Rosenborg at home with goals from Odsonne Edouard (2) and Olivier Ntcham. The away leg was 0-0 with the job done in the first.

Now, much further into their domestic season, Rosenborg will be hoping to get a better result this time. Celtic will be looking for a similar result to kick of their Group B campaign.

This could be a good competition for Celtic if done right. But both the players and the coaching team need to stamp out the mistakes, be it tactical or with individual performances.

As pointed out earlier, Salzburg and Leipzig will be no pushovers. Anything but progression to the last 32 for Celtic will be seen as a failure and blamed upon a summer surrounded by negativity.

Fans will be prepared to draw a line under the summer issues for now. We will need to see the evidence on the park from the players and coaches in the games that lie ahead, otherwise there will be pitchforks and torches outside Celtic Park.

Right now, Celtic need to go out and get off to a good start. Time to begin the healing process Bhoys and mount an offensive in Europe.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Can I kick him? Yes, you can.

Yesterday the SFA unveiled a new initiative in Scottish Football. Now it’s okay to kick your opponent without facing any consequences.

Apparently, three former grade one officials couldn’t agree on the HD footage presented to them of one player clearly kicking another. Because of that the matter will not be taken forward.

It’s a worrying situation. And another unprofessional one by the SFA.

With this being the outcome you have to wonder how good these former grade one officials were when they actually officiated live matches. They certainly can’t use the old honest mistake excuse retrospectively.

Are there perhaps different grades of kicks that are okay I wonder? I guess this is yet another attempt by the SFA to address the balance in the aftermath of a Glasgow derby.

Celtic win so their rivals have suffered enough right? Let sleeping zombies lie and all that.

That’s about the size of it when it comes to Scottish football’s governing body. I’d love to know how the conversation went with that panel.

First Panelist: “So the goalkeeper has won the ball, the opposing defender falls over him and the goalkeeper lashes out.”

Second Panelist: “I don’t know how you’re getting that? The goalkeeper has won the ball, the opposing defender is looking for a penalty and the goalkeeper tries to help the defender stay on his feet using his foot.”

Third Panelist: “Gents, gents, let’s not get our wires crossed here. It’s quite clear that the goalkeeper is verifying his respect for his opponent by high fiving him with his boot.”

So the game’s a bogey. What a farce.

For all his whining about the 50/50 ball (in my opinion) that led to Celtic’s goal, Steven Gerrard confirmed it was a blatant kick by McGregor. Even Stevie Wonder would agree!

I’ve watched the replay a dozen times and before McGregor’s lashes out with that foot when Ajer is on the ground, he’s already reacting to Ajer coming in and behind him from his right hand side intentionally. By the time Ajer stumbles over to McGregor’s left hand side and lands on the ground, the goalkeeper then throws his foot at the Celtic defender.

What part of that prevented three grown men watching a replay of that incident prevent them from coming to a unanimous decision? It’s the same old story with the SFA.

This sets a dangerous precedent for the future. If we can expect zero action instead of zero tolerance, players and manager will start dealing with it in their own way.

The whole point in discipline is about controlling the game by administering punishment. All we are hearing from across the city are why Collum didn’t award a free kick when Tom Rogic and Ryan Jack went for the same ball.

Former referee Dermot Gallagher stated that if that incident was a foul then it was Celtic’s. In his analysis, the former official said that Jack appeared to jump into Rogic first, but that advantage is given to Celtic.

Sportscene on the other hand focussed on Rogic’s leg which they claim to have taken out Jack. This occurred after Jack had jumped into Rogic so their analysis overlooked that completely.

Collum had a clear view of this incident. He also kept his eyes on the McGregor incident but has dealt with neither of them.

Wherever your opinion lies, it is clear that Collum like many other referees in Scotland cannot handle games of this magnitude. We all know that tempers flare, the noise is overwhelming and decisions can be influenced, but overall the man in black had a very, very poor game.

The review panel have assisted him by sitting on the fence. I think that’s what you call looking after your own.

Situation normal then?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Masterful

First we’d heard that they were coming. Then that they’d closed the gap.

Except that on Sunday it looked anything but that. I don’t think I’ve seen a more dominant Celtic performance.

The scoreline didn’t reflect Celtic’s authority in this match. It flattered the visitors to be quite frank.

Willie Collum marshalled the game with alarmingly poor judgement. So much so that he even convinced Steven Gerrard that the visitors were “done” by one such decision.

Refereeing these matches are rarely done with accuracy. Collum was horrendously incompetent.

Scott Brown went into the book in the 10th minute. He slid into a challenge without touching the player or the ball.

There was no danger in the attempt, which looked more of a block than a tackle, yet Collum booked him without hesitation. Moments earlier, Kyle Lafferty should’ve gone in the book, but he walked away unchecked.

It was clear how this game was going to be handled. Badly.

One of Collum’s most bizarre decisions was tool book Odsonne Edouard. The French striker stumbled under the challenge of an opponent and subsequently clattered into another.

Collum produced a yellow card to which the family and friends I watched the game with were totally perplexed. If anything, it should have been a foul on Edouard outside the box.

The referee was Steven Gerrard’s only hope because his side offered very little. The first half saw his team sit in like many visiting clubs do at Celtic Park.

Gerrard claimed that his team didn’t make a go of it until the second half. Well I think most people would agree that it was his plan to sit in and defend.

That is certainly how it was looking. The excuses from the new manager were beginning to stack up.

His tactical deployment meant wave after wave of attack by Celtic. It didn’t yield any goals in that half as Celtic were denied by the woodwork and the heroics of Allan McGregor.

What was not so heroic by the former goalkeeper of Oldco and now Newco, was his kick out at Kris Ajer. It was off camera at the time, but a replay showed it in on Sky.

The player wasn’t spoken to or booked for the incident. It will be interesting to see if a disciplinary panel take a look at it though I won’t hold my breath.

McGregor was booked later on, but that was a separate incident. Realistically, there should have been more cards dished out and a genuine penalty claim for Celtic.

Once the Ibrox side finally committed to an attacking move, Celtic swept forward and punished them for it. The ball broke outside the Celtic box and Rogic won a 50/50 ball.

He then marched half the length of the park. Having found Edouard approaching the opposition penalty box, the Frenchman then tapped it wide to Forrest running to his right.

The winger squared it for Ntcham who finished superbly. This was a great move and finish.

Gerrard bemoaned the referee’s decision not to award free kick from the moment his side’s move broke down. This was by no means a foul.

It was a 50/50 ball where his own player was weak or trying to win a free kick in a dangerous area. As a result that failed and Celtic capitalised.

Celtic have been called a wounded animal recently. We’ve also seen comments such as the “bubble has burst.”

We’ve had some negative headlines for sure. Some of them have even been true.

My last blog had “window of discontent” in the title. I stick by that not because of our transfers, but because of the spate dramas that engulfed the club during that period.

Thankfully, we seemed to have moved on as shown in the response and quality of performance on Sunday. As I’m sure many of you will agree, there will be one eye on that next transfer window.

More concerning was the crush that happened before the match yesterday. Certain passages had been cut off to Celtic fans yesterday for areas of the ground which would normally be accessible.

This caused a build up of fans trapped with more  being allowed to pile in. This shouldn’t happen in the modern-day.

Celtic and Police Scotland are investigating the matter. It’s clear there have been failings by one or both parties.

Hopefully those who were injured recover fully. These incidents can be traumatising.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Window of discontent, but it’s time to move on

On Friday night Moussa Dembele became a Lyon player. The young French striker worked the angles tp orchestrate a moved back to his homeland.

It wasn’t a seamless departure. Sadly, it was a disruptive one.

Like so many things for Celtic this summer, it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. The suddenness of the move made it just that.

The benefit is that now he has gone we can move on. It wasna brief disruption and we don’t look back.

I doubt many would have begrudged Moussa the opportunity to leave. He had served the club well albeit with several injuries.

That is not to say that he may not have stayed longer. Particualry if Celtic had made the Champions League.

For his age and the price paid to acquire his services, Celtic have done pretty well out if it. £20M is not to be sniffed at.

What overshadows everything was the manner of said departure. Social media outbursts are not uncommon in the modern day, but he chose this as his tool of destruction.

Personally, I was disappointed that Moussa chose to go down that road. However, we don’t know what had gone on between the club and the player.

We’ve already had the Dedryck Boyata saga to contend with. As yet we don’t know how that one is going to end though he remains a Celtic player for now.

As Mark O’Rourke wrote over on the Celtic Blog yesterday, Brendan Rodgers has had some unpopular decisions to make. That is the measure of a man in charge and how you will be remembered.

Many of us assumed Boyata would never wear the Hoops again after all that was said and done. Brendan had other ideas though and all of the facts it would seem, because he gifted the player a second chance.

That brought a chorus of booing and a banner from the Green Brigade. With the transfer window shut we appear to have moved on from that story for now.

The case with Moussa was something else entirely. The Frenchman went a little further to get his move.

Comments on social media appeared to be directed toward Brendan, but this was all part of the plan to get his move. It was clear from the manager’s sentiments that he would not be granted a move without a suitable replacement.

And therein lay the problem. With the timing of the move coming so late, Celtic were in a hopeless position to organise another player.

When that became Celtic’s defence, that was when the petulance seemed to surface. Social media can be both your friend and your enemy and Moussa decided to go rogue.

He had the full Celtic support behind him up until that point. Even when we thought he might move, all was rosy in the garden.

Am I upset at his departure? No, I’m not.

He’s been a great player, but not irreplaceable. All those missed games through injury have meant we couldn’t always count on him.

His first season was undoubtedly his best. We gave him European football and a stage to display his talent.

Ever since then he’s been subject to constant speculation about a move away. The timing of his transfer has left Celtic with two strikers going into Europe and the domestic season until the winter break.

It’s not good news, but probably not as bad as holding onto a player who had thrown his toys out of the pram. That would have been disruptive to the challenges ahead.

So we move on with the current squad and welcome in our new players. Youssuf Mulumbu and Filip Benkovic joined the club on deadline day.

Mulumbu will provide experience and support to the midfield. Benkovic will assist with defensive duties whilst he settles into UK life.

Although the transfer window is shut, it doesn’t mean Celtic can stop acquiring players. Untied players can still move, but if the club were going to do anything it’s worth noting that the deadline for registering players in Europe is Monday 3rd September.

Do Celtic need anyone else? Well another striker would ease everyone’s worries for sure.

I can’t imagine there are many decent strikers out in the wilderness right now though. Certainly not of the quality we’re looking for.

Right now the focus turns to Sunday’s encounter at Celtic Park. Brendan Rodgers and Steven Gerrard go up against each other for the first time.

The Ibrox club will fancy their chances in this match. Celtic need to stamp their authority in this one though.

Many think we’re a wounded animal right now. The truth is we haven’t even got started.

With the transfer window shut and the Europa League secured it’s time to focus on domestic duties. Anyone for a treble?

Hail! Hail

Stevie Mac