Focus on the positives

Tonight Celtic face Manchester City in the Champions League at Celtic Park. After a 7-0 mauling away to Barcelona, Brendan Rodgers will be aiming to limit any damage this unbeaten City side can inflict under Pep Guardiola’s management. 

Let’s face it, this is a tough group for Celtic. They have a few things going their favour tonight though.

Leigh Griffiths

The Scottish international has returned from injury after missing four matches including the match in Barcelona. Despite Celtic not suffering too much in front of goal though, the return of Griffiths is a positive selection headache for Brendan Rodgers. If Dembele isn’t on his game it is good to know that Griffiths is available.

No Kevin de Bruyne

Manchester City may be laden with Premier League superstars such as Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling amongst plenty others, but they will be without one key player at Celtic Park. Kevin de Bruyne (along with Vincent Kompany) is in Barcelona being medically assessed by Pep Guardiola’s favoured doctor. This doesn’t mean City will struggle because they have so many good players but de Bruyne has been so influential for the Premier League table toppers and Celtic must take confidence from that.

The Paradise atmosphere

You don’t have to be Celtic supporter to know about European nights at Paradise. Just ask anyone who has visited Celtic Park as a player, pundit or away supporter on a Champions League evening. You don’t always get the result you want, especially when a good team comes to visit. What you can be sure of is that the Celtic players will have the vocal backing of the entire Celtic supporter and they will all sing their lungs out until they can sing no more. There’s no other atmosphere quite like it.

Craig Gordon

Brendan Rodgers has already stated that Gordon will play in goal against City. He dropped the former Hearts and Sunderland keeper for Dorus de Vries in the game against Aberdeen several weeks ago. Since then, Gordon has made one appearance against Alloa Athletic, where he was lucky not to see red, then at the weekend when he replaced de Vries at half time against Kilmarnock. Although Gordon has been collating faults following a highly commendable first season, he is still number one for me. De Vries has shown me nothing to suggest Gordon is finished. The fact that Rodgers has chosen him ahead of de Vries for the game against City tells you all you need to know. Overall it remains a position of weakness for Celtic, but right now Gordon is our best man.

Celtic’s goal threat

Whist Celtic have been seen to haemorrhage goals in all but three competitive matches this season, going forward and scoring goals has been very productive. In all competitions the stats look something like this:

P 15     W 10     D 2     L 3     F 41     A 22     GD +19

Take away the Barcelona anomaly and it looks even better! Celtic should be aiming to utilise their firepower on Manchester City particularly with home advantage. City might have the marquee players, but if any of our free scoring players such as Scott Sinclair, James Forrest, Moussa Dembele or Leigh Griffiths take the initiative there is every chance Celtic can get their first goal(s) and first point(s) in Group C tonight.

Brendan Rodgers

The Northern Irishman has already shaken things up at Celtic. Of the few additions he has made, Scott Sinclair, Moussa Dembele and Kolo Toure have made a huge difference to this team. However, you only have to look at Scott Brown, Stuart Armstrong, Tom Rogic and James Forrest to see the influence Rodgers has had on them. They look fresher than ever before and with many players still on the fringe of the team and still to get back up to full fitness, it’s safe to say I have faith in Brendan’s ability particularly with his experience in the English Premier League.

Celtic may not qualify from Group C, but I would not criticise the effort that has gone in so far from everyone. This is season one under Rodgers and the club have fallen behind in development these past two or three seasons.

Now we are seeing Celtic getting back to where they should be after a lull in progression. This experience is invaluable for Rodgers and his players and the Champions League is just hotting up so let’s keep the faith.

On nights like these anything can happen. Believe.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Bouncing back in Inverness

A trip to the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium for Celtic usually means a tough game lies ahead after a long trip north. With the champions sitting unbeaten at the top of the league and their opponents, Inverness, currently propping up the rest of the Scottish Premiership right now, both teams couldn’t be further apart in terms of league position.

Thistle have literally always been a thorn in Celtic’s side, but last season they slipped out of the top six prior to the split even though their final points tally would have seen them finish 5th. The season before that, they finished a very respectable third in the league behind Aberdeen.

This season hasn’t been a great start but they drew their last match away to Aberdeen which was a decent result. The game before that, they beat St Johnstone who currently sit in third place.

So after a run of four straight defeats, including a loss to Alloa in the League Cup, they are beginning to pull together just in time for the visit of Celtic. Brendan Rodgers must bounce back from defeat today but he has said that he will not make huge changes to the team.

And why would he? Going out and getting a win today would be the perfect way to exorcise the mauling of the team that played on Tuesday night wouldn’t it?

Perhaps, but we have a large squad so we might as well use it. Even if there aren’t too many changes, our formation should be less defensive.

Whilst I respect the difference between Celtic and Inverness, I think the Hoops will be too strong for Thistle today. Brendan Rodgers will be looking to maintain a winning start in the Scottish Premiership.

A victory would see Celtic move on to 15 points and 5 points ahead of nearest side Hearts with a game at hand. Creating a gap now would give Brendan Rodgers a safety buffer and with five more tough Champions League fixtures ahead, that could well come into use as the task of avoiding fourth place in Group C becomes more demanding.

I’m sure Richie Foran won’t allow his side to be pushed over easily today, but Celtic have the mentality and the squad to inflict some damage today. Based on that, I’m going to stick my neck out and go for a 3-1 win for the Hoops this afternoon with Stuart Armstrong netting at least one goal.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

All the best Adam…

For a young talented player with only two years senior experience under his belt, Adam Matthews turned out to be a good acquisition for Celtic. Having signed him for nothing, retained his services for four years and sold him on for over £2M with a sell on clause, it is good business for the club.

Adam proved himself at right back, left back and on the right wing for Celtic. He played in some huge matches, scored goals, provided assists and even had a great pair of lungs!

The one thing holding him back was in proneness to injury. He isn’t the only Celtic player in the present day to be held back by such an issue but it was an issue.

It has been said that it was his desire to move on and not Celtic’s that brought about his transfer request and subsequent move to Sunderland. I see no reason to doubt that given that he has served us well and despite his injuries.

And it is was his injuries that were the only issue for me. His ability was more than enough to hold down a regular place.

If you are a manager and looking to make strides in Europe as Celtic always are then you need to be able to rely on your best players. The unfortunate thing for Celtic is that they haven’t always been able to rely upon Matthews, Lustig or even Forrest because of niggling injuries.

For Ronny Deila to even try to achieve his goal at Celtic, he needs to know the players he has at his disposal will be available for him. If there is a ‘cure’ for Lustig and Forrest then I see no reason for them to leave the club.

At the same time, the club are under no obligation to hold on to players who cannot fulfill their contract. I’m sure given maturity Matthews will overcome his injuries but he has been granted a transfer request and Celtic get something in return.

The young Welsh international has done his job for Celtic these last four years. 150 appearances and 5 goals later, he goes south with my blessing.

Good luck Adam in the rest of your career. You have a bright one ahead of you.

His departure makes more room on the right hand side for Darnell Fisher and new Bhoy Saidy Janko to compete for a place. Mikael Lustig will also compete for a place in the right back berth but as mentioned before, a solution to the Swede’s recurring injuries will make or break his Celtic career.

In the meantime, we have two young lads battling it out for a starting spot. With any luck, neither will have the injury issues either of their predecessors have had.

Celtic have also shipped out Paul McMullan (to St Mirren) and Michael Duffy (to Alloa Athletic) on loan. Both forwards will get invaluable experience playing in the Scottish Championship against Hibernian and Rangers as well as each other.

There is lots of movement for Celtic right now and things are shaping up nicely as Ronny Deila begins to make this team look more and more like his own. I expect more changes in the days and weeks ahead but today, it is back to the preseason schedule with the second of three matches at St Mirren Park.

FK Dukla Prague are today’s visitors and it’s another opportunity to see how preparations for the Champions League qualifiers are going. Today I hope to see new Bhoy Janko in at right back and those who never featured midweek to get some game time.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac