Up in the air…

The transfer window is now shut thankfully! And with it, any player speculation for the remainder of the current season.

Nothing major or unexpected has occurred in January. With Eboue Kouassi the only player drafted in by Celtic, I was more pleased to see some players heading out.

Eoghan O’Connell (Walsall), Jamie McCart (Inverness), Theo Archibald (Albion Rovers), Joe Thomson (Queen of the South), Ryan Christie (Aberdeen), Aidan McIlduf (Queens Park), Kristofer Ajer (Kilmarnock) and Leonardo Fasan (Port Vale) have all gone out on loan until the end of the season. Aidan Nesbitt (Morton) has extended his loan spell, whilst Saidy Janko (Barnsley), Paul McMullan (Dunfermline) Colin McCabe (Stenhousemuir) and Jamie Lindsay (Morton) continue their season long loans.

Moving on is Irish youngster, Michael Duffy who has returned to Ireland to play for Dundalk. For those with Celtic contracts ending in the summer, it is almost certainly the end of their careers at the club as well.

Not going out on loan spells are Kris Commons, Nadir Ciftci or Efe Ambrose…or is he? Commons will leave in the summer when his contract expires and Ciftci still has two-and-a-half years left to run on his deal but he is almost certain to have that cancelled if he fails to find a suitor.

For Efe it looked as though the transfer window had slammed shut on his fingers. Apparently the deal is not yet dead though so we may be bidding farewell to him before the summer.

Even then, I’m sure the club will be sweeping up Efe’s debris long after he’s gone. He’ll be haunting people in the corridors of Celtic Park for years to come!

Slowly, but surely the squad size will be coming down because. This needed to happen, but in turn the quality needs to remain high.

With Moussa Dembele and Craig Gordon linked with Chelsea in the window, it was reassuring to hear they were both staying put. There’s nothing to say that, that might change in the summer, but for now they are both still Celtic players.

The lure of London, the Premier League, Antonio Conte’s aftershave and a lot of Sky Sports money must be hard to ignore. On planet Celtic though there is a treble at stake and dare I say it a chance to go the whole season unbeaten?

Something special is happening at Celtic right now. We’ve seen that in almost every game this season so far.

You’d be a fool not to want to be part of it if you are being given the chance. There are some who don’t feature in the long-term plans though.

For many of the squad, the season is just beginning as they earn their first minutes on the park under Rodgers. The pack will become tighter as the squad downsizes.

We’re not losing quality, just quantity. Some guys will come back and have another crack, some will remain gone forever.

The key thing here is that Rodgers has run the rule over this squad. He’s been patient, given many a chance and remained even-handed with his fitness policy.

He made it clear that Leigh Griffiths, although a talented player, isn’t doing it right in other areas to be considered his first choice striker. I get Brendan’s stance on this and we saw something similar with Ronny Deila, though it failed to obtain respect and support from some of the dressing room and supporters.

Deila imposed a similar regime of health, fitness and lifestyle but his tactics and squad selection would be his undoing. Most of the current squad endured that but it ironically has paved the way for Brendan Rodgers.

Griffiths was one of those players, Commons was another. Only one of them still has a shot at a Celtic career.

I feel for both guys having both served the club so well. It is obvious though that under modern management at a club like Celtic it is becoming a club standard to shape up or be shipped out.

Leigh has a chance and he did seem to take Deila’s advice, eventually earning his place after being out of the picture. Under Rodgers the bar has gone up again though.

Whatever Leigh isn’t doing right he needs to change. He is a fine player who has already shown what he can do on a Tunnock’s diet.

I hope he continues to work hard and demonstrates his willingness to comply. If he does he’ll be unstoppable and Rodgers will have a pleasant headache.

Right now though it seems to be Dembele all the way. Until the summer at least.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Forging ahead

20150921-mind-the-gapThere was nothing scintillating about Celtic’s win over Kilmarnock last night. A single goal decided the match, but this was no easy three points for Brendan Rodgers.

In the first half Celtic were dominant with good work rates from Callum McGregor and James Forrest in attack. Despite retaining the ball for long periods though, Celtic weren’t really penetrating the Kilmarnock defence.

In fairness to the Ayrshire side, they put up a solid formation, but they didn’t sit back too much either. They hit on the break and put Celtic under pressure at times and probably could have scored a goal or two had it not been from a lack of composure or better fortune, which in this game would have made things more interesting.

Celtic had several chances themselves, but composure and luck deserted them on all but one occasion. The second half was a little more feisty with several players becoming involved in mini-tussles.

Craig Gordon had a least one blip which could have been worse and Dedryck Boyata, starting his first game under the new manager, looked shaky on more than one occasion. Gordon did recover though but I’m still no more impressed with Boyata than I was when he played under Ronny Deila.

Stuart Armstrong also found himself under pressure in the first half a couple of times. He looked like he was wearing the wrong boots….until he scored.

Armstrong, a growing presence in the Celtic midfield these days, put away a tidy finish after a good run and some neat interplay in front of him. His all round game is becoming more prominent in the team with every passing game and he showed that even after a slip up earlier in the game he can retain his composure when required.

When you have a young talented player like this in your squad, why would you even bother with Steven Gerrard? We already have one senior midfielder in Scott Brown who is playing his best football in years.

And when you consider that Tom Rogic is adding goals, pace and skill in a midfield-attack role, our midfield is looking healthy. Nir Bitton will want to sort out is ailing game and get back in the program because he is slipping down the pecking order and rightly so.

So it is another 3 points for Celtic and the gap is widening. Another clean sheet takes Celtic step closer to obtaining another Scottish league record.

The rest of the Scottish Premiership are in action this afternoon and on Monday night. Four teams will be hoping to catchup with Brendan Rodgers runaway train.

Aberdeen (2nd) have a tricky one away to Inverness (6th), The Rangers (3rd) have and easy one at home to Dundee (11th),  St Johnstone (joint 5th) are at home to Ross County (12th) today and Hearts (joint 5th) are away to Hamilton (9th) on Monday night. With Celtic are 13 points clear at the top of the league, only a point separates second, third and fourth/fifth placed teams.

It is that tight and the pecking order could change very quickly. This is an interesting battle as four teams compete to be Celtic’s real contender though at this stage it is looking like the best of the rest.

Aberdeen have been that team for a while. Hearts showed their intentions last season.

We’ll know by the end of the season just how close The Rangers are to mounting a serious challenge. Right now they are sitting third, but no team is as near as Celtic as they would like to be.

In the meantime, Brendan Rodgers will prepare for Barcelona on Wednesday night in the Champions League. Can he beat the Catalan machine on home turf as his Northern Irish compatriot Neil Lennon did in 2012?

Well, let’s put it this way, one win from the last two games is the ONLY way Celtic have a chance of qualifying in third spot. Beating Manchester City away seems like a tough one so why not Barcelona at home eh?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Killie dispatched, now City come to visit

Celtic were in mesmerising form on Saturday. The 6-1 thrashing of Kilmarnock was a welcome boost going into Wednesday’s Champions League tie.

In the aftermath of the Massacre of Matchday 1, Celtic managed a 2-2 draw at Inverness in the Scottish Premiership followed by a 2-0 win at home to Alloa in the League Cup. In truth Celtic should have won the game against Caley Thistle with several chances missed whilst the Alloa match would have been a high scoring win on any other occasion.

So beating Kilmarnock by such a large margin, Celtic have their shooting boots on again. Just in time for the arrival of Manchester City this week.

I only saw the highlights of the weekend’s game but Celtic looked comfortable and at ease. This was a good warm up with Wednesday’s game in mind.

Leigh Griffiths returned and scored after replacing Moussa Dembele who had helped himself to a brace before making way for the Scotsman. A fine effort by James Forrest, a trundled goal by Tom Rogic and a Scott Sinclair penalty all added to make this a healthy scoreline.

Sinclair kept his scoring record alive and on course for equaling and possibly beating Jimmy McGrory’s record. Dembele’s tally continues to grow as does Griffiths’ but save some praise for James Forrest who is looking like a new player these days.

He’s clearly enjoying his football under Brendan Rodgers at Celtic. In fact, the same can be said for most of the players at Celtic right now.

I always knew this team – made up largely by the previous managers – was capable of so much more. The few new additions have helped compliment the many who have been at the club for a while.

For Rodgers this is good news but this is far from the finished article. There us plenty of room for improvement.

What we’re seeing now though is breathtaking at times. We’ve not seen this kind of ruthlessness from a Celtic side for so long.

What still needs attention is goalkeeping and defending. We must be just as mean at the back as we are clinical in attack.

In time that will come I’m sure. With the added expectation and pressure of the Champions League there is little time to get that ingrained into the mentality of the team.

When Pep Guardiola brings his unbeaten team of all-stars to Celtic Park on Wednesday we could be brought down a peg or two once more. City are a high-flying team right now with one, if not the most, respected managers in world football at the helm.

The team sheet is laden with superstars thanks to being bankrolled by the very generous TV rights kitty in England and of course a very wealthy owner. By comparison, Celtic operate in a less lavish climate despite being the best team in Scotland by far and with solid business model in place.

When Celtic went to Barcelona nobody expected a result. We didn’t expect a hiding either but then we were up against the best three-pronged attack in world football.

City offer something different though. They aren’t world beaters but they are superb.

Celtic have a chance though because they have home advantage. It can count, but Celtic will have to dig deeper to stave off such a potent force.

Brendan Rodgers has instilled confidence into the Celtic team but he must sort out the goalkeeping position and organise his defenders. Dorus De Vries was subbed at the weekend, claiming he had a chest injury.

In stepped Craig Gordon for the second half. From what I’ve seen of De Vries, he has very little more to offer than Gordon does.

I’d rather Rodgers went with Gordon on Wednesday. It has to be said though that this is a position that must be dealt with swiftly.

Gordon is a decent keeper, but his form has slid since his debut season and I was already of the opinion Celtic might need to bring in someone new. De Vries was drafted in to challenge the Scotland international but I’m not impressed.

I’m not bothered by the fact he is three years older than Gordon. What I am concerned about is that we’ve brought someone in who is supposed to be challenging for the number one jersey and has so far failed to impress.

Whoever plays in goals on Wednesday night they need only do one thing – their job. In the short-term we will need to make do with the current set of goalkeeping options but looking ahead, something will need to change.

Beating Manchester City remains a tall order. They have a great squad, manager and are in top form.

Celtic must use home advantage, keep things tight at the back and have the fans in top voice. This isn’t an impossible task but it is a difficult one.

I would expect Celtic to concede as they have in all but three games this season. Scoring goals hasn’t been too much of a problem though Celtic have yet to get one in this group.

I am confident we will score against City. The question is, how many will they score against us?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Staying the course

Celtic bounced back from midweek Champions League disappointment with an….er….2-2 draw in Inverness on Sunday afternoon. Okay, so not exactly what we were all hoping for, but dropping points against Caley Thistle on their own patch is not uncommon for the Hoops.

Yes, I thought Celtic might turn Thistle over, but they didn’t. I never saw the game (some of us have to work some weekends you know!) though from what I’ve heard, read and viewed there were plenty of chances to go several goals ahead.

I take nothing away from Caley Thistle, they’re trying to pull their season together after a poor start. Celtic have for the first time in the Premiership seen just how their defensive frailties can cost themby dropping points.

There are plenty of positives about Celtic right now though. Attacking play appears to be one of them.

Brendan Rodgers weakest area is conceding goals. Whether that comes from the defensive set up or the goalkeeping position it must be rectified pronto.

I don’t think we’ve got a top drawer keeper right now. Just able, experienced keepers.

Dorus de Vries has replaced Craig Gordon and if I’m being honest, I’m not seeing any improvement with this move so far. Among our thirty something trio of keepers (including the injured Logan Bailly) we don’t seem to have the quality of a Fraser Forster or an Artur Boruc.

We don’t even know if young Leonardo Fasan can do a job. Knowing Celtic’s history we’ll probably punt the Italian and he’ll end up having a highly successful career in England.

It’s not all goalkeeping of course. The defence must do their job as well.

We have healthy individuals in defence, but the organisation must be better and more decisive. Kolo Toure, Erik Sviatchenko, Mikael Lustig and Jozo Simunovic are all more than capable of fulfilling the centre back role so the correct partnership needs to be established so that others can follow.

Players like Eoghan O’Connell can’t be expected to step in when guys much older than him can’t show him how it’s done. Brendan must establish a solid line of defence especially with so many tough European matches coming up.

Sunday was a blip but Celtic remain unbeaten. Tonight they face Alloa Athletic in the League Cup at Celtic Park.

A clean sheet should be targeted here and decent amount of goals for the Hoops as well. The course hasn’t changed – full speed ahead.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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

Celtic v Inverness Caledonian Thistle

When it comes to giant killing, Caley Thistle have done their fair share. Unfortunately for us Celtic fans, we’ve been on the end of these killings in three cup competitions.

John Barnes was the first Celtic manager to suffer at the hands of Inverness in the Scottish Cup 16 years ago. That was later followed up in 2003 under Martin O’Neill’s tenure in the same competition.

On both of those occasions, Inverness were a First Division club (now the Scottish Championship). In the years that followed, Inverness showed that they were a team worth paying attention to having made the SPL (now Scottish Premiership) in 2004.

They certainly weren’t one season wonders either. After five seasons in the top flight, they were relegated but only for one season.

in 2010 they were back in the top flight and have remained there ever since. Last season they inflicted more pain on Celtic when they dumped the Hoops out of the Scottish Cup for the third time.

They went on to win the cup last year and also made their debut in Europe, exiting the Europa League in the second qualifying round. So far this season they’ve failed to duplicate last seasons form.

However, despite things being slow moving this season, they have still managed to keep Aberdeen at bay for almost a year. The Dons haven’t beaten them this season at all and credit to John Hughes, he has managed to haul his team up the league and into the top half.

In fact, Caley Thistle are only 1 point off 4th spot in the Scottish Premiership. They also have two games at hand over the current 4th placed club, Ross County.

So today will be no easy ride for Celtic I’m sure. There have been a handful of additions to the Ronny Deila’s team recently, some back from injury and some who have rarely featured at all.

Celtic supporters are talking about seeing more of Scott Allan, Ryan Christie and of course loanee Patrick Roberts. John Collins hinted that we may see the latter of the three today, but we’ve yet to see Allan and Christie in as regulars.

Their futures are long-term at the club and it is likely that because of that, they are not been thrown into the team just yet. It seems that with the growing number of midfielders at the club though, we’ll have to shed some of our load.

That is a no brainer of course. You don’t need a crystal ball, the media or John Collins to tell you that.

What fans are also talking about is “who is for the exit door?” At this stage you can only speculate.

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 and an influential Scottish player, I doubt Celtic would let him go.

Tom Rogić, a player I never thought would wear the Hoops ever 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. 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 inflated numbers 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 they have just drafted in Patrick Roberts 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 an assist but he is often let down by injury.

McGregor got his chance under Ronny Deila last season and repaid him immediately with a goal on his debut in Europe. 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 but he came back onto the scene recently as well. 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)t. 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 desire, I can’t see Celtic bringing him back again.

Also out on loan is Anthony Stokes. 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.

There is not 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.

Last but not least is Derk Boerrigter. And that’s all I have to say about him.

Good luck to the Hoops today, whoever manages to get a game! Time to open up that lead at the of the Scottish Premiership.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Comfortably Thumb

Celtic turned in a comfortable performance yesterday at home to Ross County. After a spate of bad form, Ronny Deila got a decent response from his players.

Leigh Griffiths, a recent victim of social media abuse, notched up goal number 30 of the season. He’d been denied by the post earlier in the match which could easily have turned out to be the story of the game but it wasn’t.

Instead, the timing of Celtic’s opening goal was ideal with it coming in injury time in the first half. Kieran Tierney crossed the ball into the Ross County box which their defence failed to clear sufficiently thanks to pressure from Stefan Johansen.

The ball dropped to Griffiths who smashed it home from close range. This made him the fastest Celtic player to reach the 30 goal mark since Henrik Larsson.

Dedryck Boyata doubled Celtic’s lead in the 57th minute with a great header. With a deep cross coming in from Stuart Armstrong, Boyata leapt to nod it in at the back post.

It helped settle things down but results are rarely settled with a two goal lead. Craig Gordon demonstrated a fine save late in the game to deny County an equaliser.

He’s not been in his best form this season but that save showed he still has the ability and focus. This was a steady performance by Celtic who have now won their last two game’s 2-0.

Ronny Deila needs to rebuild the confidence that the team were displaying throughout January. The League Cup exit remains a scar on the season but the focus remains on the League and Scottish Cup.

Now it is over to Aberdeen who face Inverness tomorrow night at the Caledonian Stadium. Both sides have only lost 1 of their last five matches but with 26 points separating each side, Aberdeen are the favourites for this match.

Though it is worth remembering that Derek McInnes’ side have not beaten Inverness in their last two league meetings. They drew the last match 2-2 at Pittodrie on Boxing Day and Inverness won 2-1 at the Caledonian Stadium back in late September.

The Dons are on form though and in pursuit of Celtic who despite a difficult period, remain 3 points at the top of the league. Win, lose or draw tomorrow night, Celtic will still have a game at hand.

Congratulations to Leigh Griffiths this weekend for reaching that milestone. Even greater credit for enduring the internet trolls.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac