Celtic’s City Pride

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 06: Patrick Roberts of Celtic (L) fouls Ilkay Gundogan of Manchester City (R) during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between Manchester City FC and Celtic FC at Etihad Stadium on December 6, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Celtic bowed out of the Champions League last night with a 1-1 draw. Brendan Rodgers took his squad to the Etihad Stadium in Manchester to face Pep Guardiola’s side one more time before bringing down their European curtain for this season.

The game itself had no impact on qualification places. With Barcelona qualifying in first, City in second and ‘Gladbach in third there was nothing to play for but pride for the Hoops.

And Celtic did just that with City loanee Patrick Roberts opening the scoring within 4 minutes. City equalised on 8 minutes courtesy of Kelechi Iheanacho.

Despite no more goals for the remainder of the game, there were plenty of talking points. Top of that was Celtic’s performance.

You could argue that with the group placings already decided there was nothing to contest. When Scottish and English teams collide there is everything to play for though.

With Guardiola’s players fresh from some weekend controversy and already qualified for the next round, he made some changes. It was mentioned throughout the match on BT Sport that this was a second string Manchester City side but I will come to that later.

In all fairness to Chris Sutton, as much as he is quick to criticise Celtic players for not doing something right, he was equally adamant to point out the talent that was on the park for City, not who wasn’t. I must say, Sutton is growing on me as a pundit and what spot on when stating the facts.

I wouldn’t say he is biased, he will tell you when things aren’t right in his opinion. I will disagree with him from time-to-time, but he ironed out the facts promptly on BT Sport which is more than could be said for the commentators .

Ian Darke and Robbie Savage weren’t offering too much in the way of praise about Celtic’s goal. Their focus appeared to be more on the constant changes Guardiola makes, this game being no exception, rather than the complimenting the impact one of City’s own players had made on them.

In contrast, when City equalised the Darke and Savage were a little more buoyant. They weren’t too critical of a lapse in Celtic’s defending or that Craig Gordon should probably have made a better effort to save thea shot which was pretty much at him.

Still, by this point in the game it was looking like it could be another 3-3 affair and was developing into a great match. What a way to end our European run that would have been to have won it.

Celtic were in fine form in Manchester. To go down there with no European progression is a tough motivator but the Bhoys gave it their all regardless.

As I said before, playing an English side is generally all the motivation Celtic need. Ironically, the only English Manchester City player on the park was actually playing for Celtic.

Speaking of which, all the talent that was supposedly left of the sidelines by City were replaced by younger players. They may have been up against Celtic’s close to strongest team, but leaving value aside for one moment, the age and experience of the Celtic team wasn’t given the credit it deserved.

The average age of the Celtic starting line-up was 25 years old. City’s average player age in their starting line-up came in at 26 years old.

Yet all I kept hearing was City’s young side getting to know each other and Pep’s system. Is Brendan Rodgers in any better position at Celtic given he has been in his job the same length of time?

They failed to mention how much some of these City players are on or how much was paid to acquire their services as well. The ‘young’ lad Leroy Sané cost more than the whole Celtic team alone when you add all the fees up.

However , I digress from what was an entertaining match. For Celtic fans this was a very positive nights entertainment.

From back to front I thought Celtic were great. The passing and movement were impressive.

The team looked sharp and fluid. This was a good sign for the future.

My key men on the night were Jozo Simunovic, Scott Brown, Stuart Armstrong, Tom Rogic and James Forrest. I thought Emilio Izaguirre had a busy night, but he dealt with the pressure well considering.

Erik Sviatchenko looked a little off the pace once or twice, but he too made some timely interventions. Mikael Lustig was steady, but also tested by the young Sané at times meaning he couldn’t get forward to support or serve Roberts.

Roberts himself was in and out of the game. Despite scoring, his impact was not consistent but still a valuable contribution without a doubt.

Coming off the bench was Gary Mackay-Steven and Leigh Griffiths. Both players could have won the game for Celtic but City had their chances to do the same.

One thing is for certain about each players performance. Had they been playing more recently rather than on the sidelines, both of those strikes could have been in the back of the net.

All in all it was a fair result where either team could have nicked it. That’s despite the match officials having a poor game.

Celtic should have had penalty when Roberts was manhandled on the edge and inside the box. Worst still were the handful of offsides at either end of the park that never were.

Lots of positives for Brendan Rodgers to think about. A good crack at the top flight which he could have been luckier with but this was a tough group.

Take what we have learned from this campaign into the next. A fine effort Bhoys.

A final note to the commentary team. Despite the blatant focus on Manchester City, Ian Darke found time to mention not just the 50th anniversary of Celtic’s success in the European Cup in Lisbon, but the proximity of that home-grown squad to Celtic Park and the fact that they were the first British side to win the competition.

Credit where it is due.

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

Scotland the brave?

On Saturday night I sat down and watched the Scotland v Lithuania game on TV. Once again I put myself through the kind of torture that can only mirror what it’s like to follow a lower league club.

That hopeless desire that one day you might just experience something wonderful with that inevitability that you never will. In that respect, Scotland are a lower league international side. 

International football, of course, is a different beast to club football altogether. The analogy is pretty close though.

The qualifying campaigns are long, drawn out affairs and in Scotland’s case unfulfilling. Having failed to reach a finals since 1998, the national side remain way off the pace.

After Saturday’s lucky draw at Hampden there appears to be no sign of that changing. Scotland always seem to come up short when they need exactly the opposite.

Gordon Strachan was a good appointment for the national side. He’s a good coach and was an iconic player so he fits the bill in terms of an international leader in my view.

The trouble is, Scotland were lack some exciting players on Saturday night. They have a good variety of talent playing at a decent level in England but there weren’t many on the park that I would have considered as star players.

Robert Snodgrass was probably the only guy I’d put in that category that started the match at Hampden. There might be a few who have moved with rather large price tags or command larte salaries but nobody got my heart racing against the Lithuanians. 

Lithuania are ranked around 70 places below Scotland, but Strachan’s players struggled to create chances let alone score goals. There is the basis of a good Scotland squad,but you need players out there providing a bit of inspiriation.

There are plenty of guys out there who haven’t even been capped and could do a very good job. When their time will come remains to he seen.

I might be slightly biased in my analysis,but not one Celtic player started. Leigh Griffiths, James Forrest and Kieran Tierney were all on the bench.

Are we really saying none of these guys were good enough to start against Lithuania at Hampden? And what about the other Celtic players yet to get a sniff at a Scotland squad such as Stuart Armstrong and Callum McGregor?

Of the Celtic outfield trio, one, two or all three should have started given their form this season. Coming off the bench is all well and good but I think Gordon set up wrong for this match.

Scotland should have hammered out a solid home win at Hampden. With a more attack minded team, Scotland could have ended this game early.

Intead they were chasing an equaliser. Had they gone on the front foot sooner, Strachan could have switched things and rested players for the next game.

Away points will be hard to come by in England, Slovenia and in Slovakia on Tuesday. We can add Lithuania to that list if Saturday’s match is anything to go by.

Winning home games is essential. Scotland won’t win the group, but they should be doing everything to ensure they amass the highest amount of points possible to see them into a play off position.

Realistcally, that is Scotland’s best hope. Just managing a draw against Lithuania was lucky, but it was also damaging to our campaign.

You don’t get much of a chance to recover in qualification. There are few games in which to make your mark and Scotland always seem to be dragging their heels.

The qualification process is far from decided. At this stage though, it was a blip that Gordon Strachan could have done without.

There will be more dramas ahead. As a Scotland fan of many years, I know that all too well.

Stevie Mac

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

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

A busy transfer window, not a miserly transfer window

I’m not going to beat about the bush. This Bhoy is satisfied with the transfer activity carried out by Celtic this summer.

Many of you will no doubt disagree with me on that,  judging by some of the reaction I’ve read elsewhere on the web. The lack of an apparent marquee signing or a creative midfielder appear to be the main reasons.

With a squad the size Brendan Rodgers has, there are still plenty of opportunities for existing players to prove themselves under his guidance. The manager has already made a huge difference upon his arrival.

Celtic have offloaded nine players with a further ten out on loan. At the same time, they have drafted in six players and renewed the contracts of two.

If that isn’t a busy window, then I don’t know what is. Come the January transfer window, I would expect to see further moves in and out of Celtic Park as well.

Celtic are already showing signs of great improvement on the field of play and that is without a fully fit squad. Now with the transfer window shut, we know who will be available to Brendan Rodgers until the end of the year at least.

The addition and impact of Scott Sinclair and Kolo Toure has been very influential and I would argue that they have marquee signings for Rodgers. New contracts for Tom Rogic and James Forrest has breathed new life into their careers at the club and on the field of play.

Moussa Dembele continues to settle in and has also made a steady impact. Cristian Gamboa’s was an unexpected purchase but with Saidy Janko now out on loan, it appears this was an area Brendan Rodgers was not happy with.

The departure of Stefan Johansen and the loaning of Scott Allan has helped the midfield in that there will be more opportunities for others. Ryan Christie, Liam Henderson and Kristoffer Ajer will be seeking to displace Scott Brown, Nir Bitton, Callum McGregor, and Tom Rogic.

There is also Stuart Armstrong and Kris Commons to consider as well. With the amount of games Celtic are set to play, I expect many will get an opportunity even if they have to be patient.

At the back, it would have been good to see the back of Efe Ambrose but he has stood firm and remains. I can’t see him getting in the team with Kolo Toure and Erik Sviatchenko as key players.

Also fighting for a place will be Dedryck Boyata and Jozo Simunovic. The jury is still out on Boyata for me but the failed transfer of Simunovic to Torino is a positive.

Having been hampered by injury, the Croatian defender has rarely had time to make a go of things and I was stunned Celtic were trying to move him on. I think this might be a twist of fate for Celtic as he will push Toure and Sviatchenko all the way.

Mikael Lustig has the benefit of being able to play right back or centre half so he is one of our more fortunate defenders. Kieran Tierney doesn’t look as comfortable in a back three as Lustig but will be a key player on the left side of defence regardless.

Sparring for that role will be Emilio Izaguirre though he is more like Gamboa as a wing back than a defender. The one player I was sad to see sign on elsewhere was Charlie Mulgrew.

Although he was still training at the club, he hasn’t been shy of injuries in recent times. Mulgrew’s versatility is one of his greatest assets which would have been great to have had in the squad.

However, if he did receive reduced terms as reported, I cannot fault the club. Given his absences in the past two seasons and his desire to secure one last big contract I can only wish him all the best at Blackburn.

On the wings we have Scott Sinclair, James Forrest, Patrick Roberts and Gary Mackay-Steven. Mackay-Steven will struggle to get into the team now, especially when Roberts returns.

Up front, Leigh Griffiths will duel with Dembele so it will be interesting to see how Nadir Ciftci handles being left in the dark. He will either emerge better or go under and eventually move on – it is up to him.

Last but not least is the number one slot. Craig Gordon has been first choice for two seasons but with the arrival of Dorus de Vries, his position is in jeopardy.

De Vries played under Brendan Rodgers previously and seems he will be given a chance to push Gordon all the way. Meantime, Logan Bailly and Leonardo Fasan have fallen further down the pecking order.

So it is an exciting time. The squad has seen arrivals and departures and judging by what I have seen under Brendan Rodgers will continue to get better.

Poor transfer window? I don’t think so.

Some further deals may have happened but for the business that has been done, I am happy. There is so much to look forward to right now and even more to look forward to in the future.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Brendan’s vision coming to fruition

When a club manager has a vision of how they want to see their team to play, the priority is to get the team playing that way. For Brendan Rodgers, he obviously has a vision and whilst trying to bring that to the field of play, he has had to do so whilst assessing the squad he inherited.

Many have moved on, and just last week the latest person to leave was Stefan Johansen. His departure was long rumoured and leaves the door open for other players currently at the club to step up or someone new.

For Rodgers to realise his vision though, he needs to see evidence from his current crop or seek the answer from a new player. The size of the squad still requires trimming down and it is being whittled down step by step.

The transfer window is open until the end of August. Today it has been reported that Cristian Gamboa is undergoing a medical with Celtic and his signature imminent.

A right back didn’t appear to be a priority in my eyes but it is obvious that it is for Brendan Rodgers. The manager ejected prospect Darnell Fisher leaving him with the returning Saidy Janko and Mikael Lustig for that position.

The sign is that he desires more experience in this position and someone with the ability to play as a wing back as well. Lustig may not be what he is looking for in that role and with Janko still finding his way in a Celtic jersey it appears Gamboa is the player for him.

Rodgers has also brought in 35 year old Dorus de Vries as another goalkeeping option. He will provided competition for 33 year old Craig Gordon if not shift him from the number one slot permanently.

That leaves question marks over Logan Bailly and Leonardo Fasan. Bailly was brought in as backup by Ronny Deila and has rarely featured so he could be moved on given that he too is in the 30+ category and vying for one position.

As for Fasan, well he may still have a chance and certainly has age on his side. Right now Rodgers has signalled his intent that the goalkeeping position in his view is not strong enough.

It is an exciting time for Celtic supoorters with all these changes. Rodgers and his management team have assessed the squad over the summer and things are progressing.

As I’ve said before, many have moved on and more will follow. If not in this transfer window, then certainly the next one.

Boerrigter, Kazim-Richards, Stokes, Cole, Fisher, Mulgrew, Findlay and Scepovic are all off the books now. Nine more are out on loan including Scott Allan.

With two days left in the transfer window and we are likely to see activity right up until the death. Ajer, Toure, Sinclair, Dembele and de Vries in so far. Gamboa and one more possibly as well as new deals for Tom Rogic and James Forrest.

On the shaky peg are Kris Commons, Efe Ambrose, Gary Mackay-Steven and at least one goalkeeper. All this, top of the Premiership with a game at hand and the Chanpions League to look forward to.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac