Having lost their final game of 2018 in such deplorable style, the January transfer window could not have arrived at a better time for Celtic. The challenge this season has been more realistic than any other in recent years because there has actually been one.
Many have dismissed the suggestion of a title race, some have said it is of Celtic’s own making. Both of those statements have their own degree of validity.
We’ve always been happy to use the phrase “title race” when you know you have two or more genuine challengers. Celtic and Rangers were always in the title race by default, but since the 1872 club’s demise, it has really just been about Celtic.
Even when Ronny Deila took charge, the title was pretty much always going to be Celtic’s. Aberdeen made some headway to interrupt that, but Celtic always came through.
This season has been a somewhat different story because Celtic had a shambolic summer transfer window, some want away rebels in the dressing room, a manager making statements to the press which had many of us wondering if he was still happy at the club and of course exiting the Champions League. What followed was a poor start to the domestic campaign which had only begun improve as we got nearer the end of the year.
Now you can agree with those that think this is of Celtic’s own making yet these are the kind of factors that can affect a title race. When Rangers 1872 were going for ten-in-a-row, their team was ageing and certain individuals were set to leave at the end of that season, including their manager.
Some of that, I would argue, helped Celtic win the title that season. Yes, we had drafted in some better talent and were looking good, but it went down to the wire.
I don’t agree with Archie Knox’s sentiments that Celtic are about to do the same as Rangers did in 1998. We have it within our means to ensure it doesn’t happen – they didnt’.
Rangers 2012, for all their faults, have put together a team who are playing as consistent as any other club in the top flight. We can pick holes in their stats just as we can in any other club in the Scottish Premiership, but the fact is they are where they are on merit just like Kilmarnock, Aberdeen, Hearts etc.
It doesn’t matter how a title race happens, you simply have one based upon the circumstances that occur. Celtic have struggled this season and the signs were already apparent last season.
Yet despite all of that, the club weren’t proactive enough. This season we have a smaller squad hindered further by absentees and the poor form of key players.
Celtic still have a game at hand and currently sit in 1st place with the same points as Rangers, but with a slightly better goal difference. At the same stage last season, Celtic were nine points ahead of Aberdeen (2nd) and eleven points ahead of Rangers (3rd).
That was pretty much how last season ended too with Aberdeen finishing nine points behind in 2nd place and that gap on 3rd placed Rangers widening slightly to twelve points. So how can you not say it is a title race this season?
Isn’t that what we want anyway? Celtic may have dropped the ball, but it doesn’t change the fact teams are breathing down our neck.
And there is more than just Rangers to think about. Everything but the kitchen sink is being thrown at Celtic right now in order to halt their domination.
Be it any of the other top six teams, match officials or dirty tricks on and off the park, Celtic have to show why they are Champions. And by doing that Brendan will have to reassemble his troops, get some backing from the board and come out fighting after the winter break.
The threat is real and Celtic have not strengthened from a position of strength. Not for the first time in our history either.
It has been reassuring that many of our key players have signed new deals this year but the fact is Brendan Rodgers has recycled this team about as much as he can. We need new blood now.
Today, the club have drafted in Oliver Burke on loan from West Brom. Other attacking players have been targeted, but this one is curious.
Burke is only 21 years old, capped five times as a full Scottish international and now made his fifth professional club move, this being his second loan spell. Having started out at Nottingham Forrest and a brief loan period at Bradford, he caught the eye of up-and-coming RB Leipzig who paid a lot of money for him.
After a year in the Bundesliga, West Brom decided to pay even more money for his services. He hasn’t played a lot of football this season so this will be a chance for him to prove himself.
His preferred role is as a right-winger, but he can also play on the left and as a forward. I’m guessing that it is his physicality that is of interest to Brendan Rodgers.
At 6 ft 2 inches he is not small so I wouldn’t be surprised if the manager plans to use him as a forward. I’m sure he’ll be a welcome addition to the team for the remainder of the season.
There will be further signatures in this window in the attacking department by the sounds of it, but Celtic must sort out their defence. They currently have twelve first team defenders, five of which are out of contract in the summer.
Of the seven that remain, one will never be seen in the first team again (Marvin Compper), one is out on loan currently and not a defender in my opinion (Calvin Miller) and one has taken on the Gary Gillespie role (Jozo Simunovic). That leaves the Brat Pack of Anthony Ralston, Jack Hendry, Kris Ajer and Kieran Tierney.
Now the latter four could end up forging a long-term partnership in the Celtic defence, but we lack depth and experience in this area right now. It is a huge area of concern for us, particularly in Europe.
Our midfield is actually not doing too badly so long as it is set up correctly. We lost this battle at Ibrox with the best set up not being utilised.
I don’t expect any midfielders to come in during this window, but I do expect defensive improvement as well as in attack. Let’s hope Oliver Burke is the first of many faces in January.