A chance for fringe players but Commons won’t be one of them

screen-shot-2016-12-16-at-172908Since Celtic last played Partick Thistle, they have seen off Hamilton Academical and Dundee at Celtic Park as well as the Jags themselves on a 4-1 victory at Firhill. Tonight that unbeaten could continue, but with Brendan Rodgers hinting about personnel changes for tonight’s visit by Thistle, are Celtic jeopardising their winning streak?

Brendan Rodgers has a huge squad and not everyone has seen the light of day since he came on board. Aside from those sent out on loan he still has many fringe players who need game time as proper assessment.

It will give Brendan a chance to run the rule over some of the players without sufficient game time. In recent weeks we’ve seen one or two ease their way into the squad such as Gary Mackay-Steven, Emilio Izaguirre and Patrick Roberts.

There have been cameo appearances from Cristian Gamboa and Ryan Christie and some becoming forgotten figures such as Kolo Toure, Dedryck Boyata, Nadir Ciftci and of course Efe Ambrose. Deeper down the ranks though we haven’t seen much of Eoghan O’Connell, Jamie McCart, Anthon Ralston, Liam Henderson, Kristofer Ajer or Jack Aitchison.

Tonight some of these guys might get a nod, but I don’t see Brendan making too many changes. As comfortable as Celtic are right now, you don’t want to appear to be cocky.

A win tonight would put Celtic 14 points in the clear and still with a game at hand over second place. The long-term aim is an unbeaten run, even if it isn’t being discussed openly.

It currently sits at all 20 domestic games unbeaten, 19 of which were wins with the last 14 being straight wins. To ensure that continues, players will be champing at the bit to be part of it and keep this momentum.

One player who isn’t part of things right nowh though is Kris Commons. He has gone out on loan to Hibernian until mid-January.

The happy recipient is of course the man who brought him to Celtic in the first place. Neil Lennon will utilise the services of Commons to see Hibs through a tough spell with personnel in the Scottish Championship battle.

The Leith club are neck-a-neck with Dundee United right now, but Commons has answered the call by his former manager. Brendan Rodgers has stated that it is good for both parties, but with Commons out of contract in the summer and having never kicked a ball under Rodgers he is very unlikely to be at Celtic beyond this season.

For a player with such great talent, he has managed to find himself out of the picture with all three Celtic managers he has played under. Despite making a huge impact in January 2010 under Lennon, Commons would lose his place in the first team the following season amid rumours and speculation of a fall out, ignoring any other facts in the process.

He would later return to form and the first team which was good news for the club and the fans. Commons was a key player and had been missed by the fans.

Next came the Ronny Deila era and it wasn’t too long before he fell out of favour with the Norwegian. Deila was becoming well-known for fitness and it was almost certainly the reason behind his decision to leave Commons out of his team selections.

Although a gifted player, Commons isn’t the fastest or leanest. When a manager is focussed on certain attributes that you are lacking then they are going against their own plans to make an exception for you.

Even although Lennon and Deila would make that exception, Rodgers doesn’t appear to be of the same mind. You have to be consistent with your decisions and this loan spell may offer Kris Commons a lifeline to see out the rest of the season with Celtic, but after that I don’t see a way back for the 33-year-old.

There is no question of his affinity for the club and the admiration the fans have for him. If he is not fitting the mould of the Brendan Rodgers type player he is almost certainly a goner this summer.

I hope he does well at Hibs and we do get to see him wear the Hoops again. Tonight though, the opportunities are there for those with a longer future at the club.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Time to be cut-throat with our over-inflated squad

No sooner than he is announced as Celtic’s new manager, Brendan Rodgers is said to be planning a clear out of players. This isn’t much of a surprise but it does seem to be prompt action.

Celtic have a massive team and in the hours following Rodgers signature, I’ve been discussing the current squad in my circle. Downsizing is a must particularly if fresh players are to be introduced but there are some question marks over key players.

Rumours are suggesting that Stefan Šćepović and Carlton Cole have already gone. Emilio Izaguirre was also set to leave but the word on the street is he will be back for pre-season training.

Perhaps the arrival of Rodgers has some players reconsidering their Celtic careers. This is not just limited to Izzy though, there are several players who will be evaluating their positions.

The latest rumour is linking Efe Ambrose with a move to Europa League opponents Fenerbahçe. I mean, if the Turkish club didn’t get a good enough look at his calamitous efforts when playing against him then I would say this is a cruel joke.

However, he does need to go and won’t get any argument from me. Tyler Blackett can also return to Manchester United after a poor loan spell.

In terms of do-they-or-don’t-they get new deals are Charlie Mulgrew, James Forrest and Darnell Fisher. All three are out of contract, though Forrest’s is said to run until mid-season, but whether they have futures at the club will be the first piece of business.

Mulgrew is a valuable utility man and any deal he offered is most likely to be small given his recent absence from the team. Forrest has also been a player absent from the first team but how much of that has been injury based is unclear.

He has had his fair share of them and has hindered his career at the club. Despite that, he has had some fantastic games for the club, we just haven’t seen it for so long and he might become surplus to requirement.s

Fisher, has been on loan at St Johnstone this season but played less than a dozen games. He looked like a decent prospect, despite playing in an oversubscribed playing position.

With Mikael Lustig currently first choice, Saidy Janko second, Fisher is likely to be cut. That would only change if either of the first two were to leave which is doubtful.

In the final year of their contracts are Kris Commons, Stefan Johansen, Tom Rogic, Leonardo Fasan and Eoghan O’Connell. Also on that list are Emilio Izaguirre and Efe Ambrose.

There is opportunity for Celtic to cash in on all or some of these guys. However, one player the club should make a priority to keep is Tom Rogic.

Put simply, he is one of our best players and given the season he has just had, deserves a new contract. Commons’ value will be low given his age but his ability suggests he still has a role to play at the club.

Johansen had a great start to his Celtic career but this season has been poor. There is nothing to suggest he won’t get back to his best and a new contract would depend on that and his desire to stay.

Fasan and O’Connell are squad players who have never made an impact and could will either go out on loan, let their contracts wind down or be sold off. The only other player with a year left to go is Cole but if rumours are accurate, we can confine him to the scrap-heap.

Then there is the matter of Celtic’s players out on loan. Fisher we’ve covered, the Šćepović rumour has yet to be clarified so that leaves some key players to discuss.

After 4 goals in 22 appearances for Celtic, Nadir Çiftçi was shipped out on loan to Eskişehirspor during the January transfer window. He lasted just 34 minutes in his first game before being substituted and was sent of in his second after receiving two yellow cards in the space of a minute.

In 10 appearances he managed 3 goals and now Eskişehirspor have been relegated. Given that their fans set fire to their own stadium following that, I’d say Çiftçi and Eskişehirspor are a good fit for each other.

Before going to Hibs, Liam Henderson was looking like a very decent midfield prospect. However, it is a busy area in terms of personnel and Celtic farmed him out for some first team experience.

He played the end of last season at Rosenborg where he scored 4 goals in 13 games. After returning to Celtic he was then off on a season long loan to Championship club, Hibs.

He’s played a massive 48 games and scored 6 goals. Will he be returning to Celtic this summer and making an impact in the first team?

Well he certainly has the talent but like I say, there is a lot of competition in the team right now. His future may depend on the future of others with expired/expiring contracts.

Another Hibs player with a question mark over his future is Anthony Stokes. I’ve been fairly convinced the club have been trying to move him on but as you might have seen from his performance in the Scottish Cup Final, he still has a lot of worth.

He is still only 27 and you know what, Brendan Rodgers might just fancy him for the left flank. At the moment, it isn’t our strongest position but it is a place Stokes knows inside out.

Is it time for the prodigal son to return? Watch this space.

Other loanees are Stuart Findlay, Calum Waters, and Aidan Nesbitt. These guys could very well be part of the next generation but right now there immediate futures are not a burning issue.

So what about our other team members? Will we see any more movement within the squad?

Well in the goalkeeper department we are reasonably secure for the coming season with Craig Gordon as number one and Logan Bailly as backup. The defence isn’t looking too bad either though that will all depend on who is available.

Erik Sviatchenko looks good and steady at the back. He needs a permanent partner though and my first choice would be Jozo Šimunović.

However, Jozo has had his injuries and the central defensive pairing will depend on his recovery and long-term fitness. If that doesn’t work out then you are looking at Dedryck Boyata.

In all honesty, I haven’t been convinced by the Belgian who was a permanent buy from Manchester City once Jason Denayer returned to them from his loan spell. Boyata hasn’t even come close to looking as good as Denayer so this season is make or break for him.

Our midfield is flooding with personnel right now and to accommodate all of them is a tall order. Captain Scott Brown has had a dodgy season but there is no danger of losing his services though I do think Rodgers should not be afraid to drop him.

Nir Bitton is a fine player when he wants to be, despite his languid demeanour at times. I’d be happy for him to stay on though with a return to form we may find it difficult to prevent a future move.

Gary Mackay-Steven has had some decent games for Celtic but he lacks any sort of consistency. Even at his best, he hasn’t looked as good as James Forrest and with Patrick Roberts currently blowing away almost every other Celtic player right now, Mackay-Steven is on the fringes right now.

One player growing in importance and demonstrating is adaptability is Callum McGregor. Ronny Deila gave him his first outing in the first team and has been a very loyal servant to the now departed Celtic Head Coach.

He can play wide, central or deep and has an eye for goal. His place in this squad is not in jeopardy.

Stuart Armstrong is wasted out in the wide areas. He might have a left foot but he is not a let winger.

For me, he needs to play more of a central role. He isn’t fast but he is strong, has great technique and can pick out a pass.

The two players who will be knocking on the door of the new manager will be Ryan Christie and Scott Allan. Both came in last summer and have played a small amount of matches, though Christie was loaned back to his previous club for half of this season as well has suffering and injury.

They are both highly rated players and could well be the part of the new season under Rodgers. Celtic need to push forward and these guys can be part of it but as I have said before, we have a lot of players in the midfield position and something or someone will have to give.

In the youth front, Anthony Ralston and Joe Thomson are still on the periphery. With so many players ahead of them their time is likely to be a bit further down the line.

Up front is an area where Celtic are lightweight. Leigh Griffiths is our star player right now but he has not backup. Colin Kazim-Richards is a more physical player but he doesn’t’ provide anywhere near the same kind of ability so this is an area where Celtic will have to strengthen, particularly if we are to make inroads in Europe once more.

Jack Aitchison came off the bench to score with his first touch in his first senior appearance for the club in the 7-0 mauling of Motherwell. He also became the youngest ever player to score for Celtic, breaking an age-old record.

You can’t judge the boy on one goal. If he can offer something long-term in attack we will soon find out though.

Rodgers might have to be cut-throat to bring down the squad size in order to make some space for new players. We already have a new player in Kristoffer Ajer joining the ranks as part of a pre-planned deal but there will be further moves and changes in the coming weeks.

Exciting times to be a Celtic supporter.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Trimming the numbers

Following on from my pre-match blog yesterday, I’ve included the part about current Celtic squad members and their futures. The team as we know is inflating to the point that it is becoming the new criticism on supporters lips.

Almost every Celtic midfielder right now, has a valid reason for wanting to go or for the club moving them on. It’s a lottery to be quite honest and its anyone’s guess who is for the chop.

After a dire season for him so far, Stefan Johansen is top of some lists. Come the summer he will have been at the club for two-and-a-half seasons and with only one of those seasons being poor (the current one), it would seem rather harsh to sell him based upon that.

Nir Bitton, one of Celtic’s best players has a long-term deal (not that, that stands for anything at Celtic) but he is probably our most profitable midfielder right now. For that reason, it would not surprise me if Celtic tried to cash in on that this summer.

Recently back from long-term injury is Charlie Mulgrew. Now I am a fan of Charlie, but because his deal is due to run out, questions have been raised over his future but with his versatility, relatively low salary (I assume) and an influential Scottish player, I doubt Celtic would let him go.

Tom Rogić, a player I thought would never wear the Hoops again, has been a revelation this season. Even though Europe was a major let down for the club and the domestic scene has been a real slog, Tom has been a stand out performer for me and his Celtic future should be a priority.

Kris Commons has ben on the sidelines recently with injury and illness. He has weighed in with 9 goals overall this season but at the age of 32 and not always a first pick for Ronny Deila, he could be moved on.

It would be a great shame to part with such a gifted player though. Last season he was well out of the picture at one point but he still massed 16 goals in all competitions.

I think his experience is undervalued at times, especially for big games. Personally, I would be looking to retain his services as one of the club’s most experienced players but with a large squad at the club, he could be on wrong end of the decision making.

Out on the wide areas there are a few players vying for similar positions. James Forrest, Callum McGregor and Gary Mackay-Steven have all seen action this season but Celtic cannot possibly sustain all three, particularly when Patrick Roberts has been drafted in on loan until the end of next season.

When on his game, Forrest is a nightmare for defenders. He can add goals as much as a assists but he is often let down by injury and used sparingly one would assume to prevent these injuries.

McGregor got his chance under Ronny Deila last season and repaid him immediately with a goal on his European debut. As that season wore on, he faded out of the picture and after getting injured has made it back into the fold this season.

He appears to be one of Ronny Deila’s favourites. In fairness to McGregor, he has made a fair contribution recently as well.

Mackay-Steven has also been out of the picture or underperforming but he came back onto the scene recently with a few goals. He too has goals in him and plays in a wide area but can support the front man as well.

In this area though, something has to give. And there are other players possibly looking at summer exits.

Efe Ambrose is far from having a CSC named after him (or does he have one already?). With the defence already beginning to take shape without him, he could be on his way out.

Tyler Blackett is most likely going to return to Manchester United. He hasn’t impressed at all, though to be fair I think he was out of his depth to begin with.

Stefan Šćepović, currently out on loan at Getafe, may not even return to Celtic. Having signed on deadline day two summers ago, he has failed to hit the heights in Scotland.

I thought he had a good chance this season to prove himself but was sent out on loan instead. Whether that was his desire or Deila’s, I can’t see Celtic bringing him back again/him wanting to come back.

Also out on loan is Anthony Stokes at Hibs. Despite what any fan thinks of his playing ability, good or bad, it would appear it is his off the field issues that are the problem for Celtic.

There is no doubt that the player has talent but his time is almost certainly up. I am fairly certain Celtic will move him on this summer.

A question mark remains over Nadir Çiftçi though. He got the nod in Europe early on in the season mainly because he had a domestic ban and couldn’t play in the league.

In half a season he hasn’t looked anywhere near doing a job. Will he come back?

I think he probably will. Whether he ever makes it at Celtic though remains in doubt.

Right now Carlton Cole is probably ahead of him in the pecking order of attacking options. That’s saying something considering he has barely kicked a ball for Celtic.

Last but not least is Derk Boerrigter. Since signing in the summer of 2013 he has managed 26 appearances and scored one goal.

His absence has been largely through injury. However, he hasn’t played for the first team since his ban for diving was served back in 2014.

With his injury history, it is still questionable why Celtic spunked £3M on him. Let’s hope appearances were set into that figure because if they weren’t heads should be rolling upstairs at Celtic for his signature and many other failures like him.

Most of those failures we have seen off now. That doesn’t stop you thinking about how many bad ones there have been.

Celtic need to start getting it right again on the transfer front. Ronny Deila has used a mixture of loans and buys in his first two seasons.

On that note, I actually think our most recent purchases are of a better standard. Jozo Šimunović, Erik Sviatchenko and Colin Kazim-Richards all look like decent buys though I know very little about the incoming Kristoffer Ajer.

Although only 17, he is a midfielder and another reason for Celtic needing to trim their numbers. There is also the likes of Liam Henderson, himself a worthy prospect, currently out on loan at Hibs.

There is every chance that he might even stay another year at the Edinburgh club. I rate him as a decent prospect but it is hard to see where he would fit into this Celtic midfield right now.

Also out on loan are Darnell Fisher (St Johnstone), Eoghan O’Connell (Cork City), Stuart Findlay (Kilmarnock), Calum Waters (Dumbarton) and Aidan Nesbitt (Partick Thistle). Fisher I liked the look of since ever since he made appearances under Neil Lennon and reckon he would be a good squad player.

O’Connell is now on his second loan of the season and still requires more experience. Nesbitt is said to be a very good prospect which is food for thought.

Findlay and Waters are getting valuable experience playing elsewhere this season. As for their Celtic careers, you are always doubtful when someone goes out on loan, if they will come back and break into the first team.

At the end of the day it is a numbers game and Celtic will have to trim accordingly. Next season is make or break for Ronny Deila in terms of Europe but there remains a domestic double to chase this seasonbefore then.

That should be the all inspiration and motivation the current team require to prove themselves for this club, its supporters. Not to forget their own futures whether they are out on loan or in the current playing squad.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac