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

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Who would you choose for Sunday?

We’ve seen a lot of changes to the Celtic side since Ronny Deila came in almost two years ago. Few of these player combinations have had a consistent run for varying reasons bu does Ronny have or know his best eleven?

Players going out on loan from Celtic, players finishing their loan spell at Celtic, loss of form, injury or simply not good enough! It has had a big impact on progress but that’s all part of the game.

Whether you perceive Sunday’s match as old rivals or as new ones, the match is still being hyped up to the effect of the former. Given the opportunity, who would you choose to start on Sunday though?

Do you throw in your experienced players such as Kris Commons? Or do you stick with your on form Patrick Roberts and don’t let the occasion get to you?

It’s a tough one because whilst you can play down the encounter as two different teams from two different leagues, meeting for only the second time, the sports media are all over this like it’s an O** F*** match. The first time Celtic played The Rangers it was a firm 2-0 win at Hampden in the League Cup Semi Final last year.

On that day the line up was: Gordon, Lustig, Izaguirre, van Dijk, Denayer, Brown, Bitton, Commons, Johansen, Stokes and Griffiths. Later in the match we saw Guidetti on for Griffiths, Forrest on for Stokes and Matthews on for Lustig.

Of the 14 Celtic players who took part that day, 5 have now departed (Stokes is on loan but almost certainly gone in the summer). With the exception of Denayer, van Dijk and Stokes Celtic could put out the same team.

This time, Ronny Deila has further options though. In fact he has almost an entirely new team at his disposal.

Although with Celtic by that stage last season, Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven were both cup tied for that semi final. In addition, players such as Charlie Mulgrew, Tom Rogic and Callum McGregor were not available for selection.

Even Kieran Tierney was but a twinkle in Ronny Deila’s eye at that stage. Whereas Efe Ambrose was left on the bench along with current Celtic loanees, Stefan Šćepović and Liam Henderson.

Since then Deila has added Dedryck Boyata, Erik Sviatchenko, Jozo Šimunović, Saidy Janko, Ryan Christie, Scott Allan, Patrick Roberts, Colin Kazim-Richards and Carlton Cole to the ranks. With injuries and lack of game time ruling out many, there are still significantly more options available this time around.

From those thought to be available my personal pick would be: Gordon, Lustig, Tierney, Boyata, Mulgrew, Brown, Bitton, Commons, Armstrong, McGregor and Griffiths. I’d think about bringing on Roberts for Armstrong or McGregor and Rogic for Commons as the game wears on.

If you’re going to play Commons then do so from the start I say. I’m very much in favour of Rogic playing more matches as well, but I think he can pick up a game from any stage unlike Commons who could well be important in this match.

Armstrong would provide some much needed stability in the midfield which is an area we have been weak lately. McGregor would provide a good support to the attack as well and is also a form player.

Roberts would be a great option to bring on to either keep momentum or up the pace entirely. There may also be a place for Kazim-Richards in this tie with his physical presence in mind.

As much as Griffiths has the guile to cause problems, he can be out-muscled if he isn’t on his game. I’m sure this match will be more challenging than last year’s whichever team Ronny decides to put out.

The Ibrox club will be out to prove they can cut it at the ‘top’. Playing the current Scottish Champions and the best team in Scotland is the benchmark for them after all.

Do we have anything to worry about? Well that depends on what you are worried about.

Personally, Celtic should be putting them to rest with relative ease. The Rangers have a point to prove though and if you believe what the Scottish media tell you, this mob will be challenging for the title next season, not just trying to stay up!

We’ve had a continued stream of anti-Celtic stories all week. In contrast I’ve read nothing negative about tomorrow’s underdogs.

Once that whistle blows at 12pm on Sunday, all the negative stories will fade away. Celtic just need to do their talking on the park.

Until tomorrow then.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

What does the future hold?

The current season is far from concluded but the one that follows isn’t far away in terms of time or planning. In fact it is most certainly well in to the latter already, but the question is who will still be involved next season?

Celtic bought in the January transfer window once more. By acquiring certain players it suggests future planning with a central defender, winger and striker added to the ranks.

There will be further movement come the summer and no doubt, some will need to go. Not necessarily to make way for new players, but because the squad is too large and not everyone is performing as they should be.

Craig Gordon – a standout performer in his first season, he has slid in terms of reliability in this current season but has looked better recently. I don’t think his position is in jeopardy for next season though. Verdict: still no.1 in the current set up

Logan Bailly – nothing to suggest he will get the nod ahead of Gordon or that he will be on the move. Will remain no.2 to Gordon. Verdict: must push Gordon for no.1 spot

Leonardo Fasan – the young goalkeeper would have loved to get the no.2 slot but was deemed too inexperienced. At 22 he will want and will need first team experience. Verdict: loan out for a season

Mikael Lustig – close to equalling his best ever season in terms of appearances and goals, the Swede has had his share of injuries at Celtic. This season he has avoided major injury and worn the captain’s armband in the absence of Mulgrew and Brown. I fully expect to see him back in the fold next season as well. Verdict: a key player, particularly in big games

Saidy Janko – unlike his fellow right back, the Swiss youngster has been out for the majority of the season due to injury. He showed early promise and left many Manchester United fans disgruntled at the loss of a good prospect. It will be good to see him back in contention for next season. Verdict: target a place in the team for next season

Efe Ambrose – the Nigerian internationalist is now in his fourth season for the club and on course for his fourth league winners medal. He joined a Celtic side at their peak under Neil Lennon but his errors have exposed him badly, particularly in big matches. Whether he remains a bit part player or is moved on remains to be seen but I personally don’t see him as a key player for Celtic in their bid to make progress. Verdict: time to go I’m afraid

Emilio Izaguirre – the Honduran internationalist made a huge impact when he signed for Celtic nearly 6 years ago. He has endured serious injury, won prizes and is still very much a talented player. This season he has lost his place to an emerging youngster but it remains to be seen if this spells the end for Izzy. With good left backs a rare breed it is both hard to satisfy and retain two good ones at the same time. Verdict: more than happy if he stays but club may cash in this summer if the opportunity arises

Kieran Tierney – nobody expected such positive results from this player when he stepped into the first team but he has now held down the position and made it his own. It is a testimony to his ability and application that he can keep an internationalist of more than 80 caps out of the side whilst he embarks upon his own career for club and country. Verdict: a very long and bright future at Celtic

Charlie Mulgrew – out for most of the season through injury, he has emerged (not for the first time) as a calming influence at the back for Celtic recently. Versatile as he can be, it is hard to know what Mulgrew’s best position is but he does provide options for a manager and that is a valuable tool to retain and utilise. Verdict: worth another contract for sure (and looks like he’s getting one)

Dedryck Boyata – brought in last summer as a replacement from Manchester City who took back Jason Denayer much to our disappointment. I think I am being honest in saying that Boyata isn’t a patch on his fellow Belgian and former City colleague. There is still time for Boyata to prove his worth but to date, I am less than convinced. Verdict: no doubt will remain at the club but as backup to the preferred centre backs

Jozo Šimunović – the young Croatian was drafted in with a hefty price tag but that transpired to be off the mark in terms of accuracy. He was injured early on in his Celtic career and is once more, but hopefully once recovered he can show as much promise as he has in the games he has played in so far this season. The hope is that he makes a full recovery from this season ending injury which required surgery recently. Verdict: hopefully we’ll see him emboss himself in next seasons defence

Erik Sviatchenko – this is the player I’d like to see build that relationship with Šimunović. Sviatchenko has been thrown into the mix and helped settle things down at the back for Celtic during a turbulent and pressurised period. He claims not to be fully fit at the moment and just scooped player of the year in his homeland, suffice to say I think we’ve got a good one. Verdict: looks a like a good acquisition for Delia

Tyler Blackett – Manchester United allowed this young, inexperienced defender to come to Glasgow on loan. He got his chance earlier in the season but was less than impressive. Verdict: return to sender

Eoghan O’Connell – this promising central defender has played a handful of games for Celtic and looked comfortable at senior level even as a teenager. A loan spell at Oldham Athletic this season was used to gain him some first team experience only to be cut short by injury. He has now gone on a further loan spell to home town club Cork City to get the experience he missed out on last year. Verdict: still a good choice for the future

Stuart Findlay – another young talent currently out on loan at Kilmarnock, seeking first team experience and a future at Celtic. The central defender has plenty of international experience for Scotland from under-16 through to under-21 and despite no real opportunity at Celtic just yet, there is nothing to suggest that his future cannot start at the club in the near future. Verdict: still time to stake a claim

Calum Waters – the young full back has also been out loan this season with Dumbarton benefiting from his talent. He has also represented Scotland, at under-16 to under-19 level and will be looking for a chance at Celtic, but with right back an oversubscribed position at the club, he may struggle in getting that chance. Verdict: another loan spell wouldn’t be a disaster

Darnell Fisher – sent out on loan for the season, I think this is one player who deserves to be part of the squad. Nothing fancy but showed enough under Neil Lennon when called upon to do a job at right back and right midfield. His loan spell could prove to be useful should Celtic bring him back and keep him and upon turning 22 next month, the first team should be his priority or the club may move him on. Verdict: time to push for a first team place

Scott Brown – club captain and still a big influence in the first team, he remains a key part of this squad. He is a strong character who has matured well in the Celtic jersey. There is little doubt he could retire at Celtic but he has many years left in him before that happens. Verdict: can’t imagine a Celtic squad without Broony right now

Nir Bitton – the Israeli midfielder has blossomed over the last year or so into a key player for this team. At 24 he still has his best years ahead of him and whilst that is good for Celtic, they may find it difficult to hang on to him if his talent continues to grow. A good offer may not come this summer but I wouldn’t rule out one in the near future. Verdict: an essential player who may be tempted by a big money move

Derk Boerrigter – definitely in the top ten of Celtic’ s worst ever signings, this guy should have gone last summer never mind this summer. Verdict: go now please

Stuart Armstrong – looking more assured in a Celtic jersey since he signed just over a year ago, I think he will grow into a key player for Celtic. Verdict: would like to see him in central midfield

Kris Commons – few would argue that he is one if not the most talented players currently plying his trade at Celtic. Age is currently against the gifted player and for many, he hasn’t seen enough game time under Deila. Verdict: Celtic will want to retain his skills for as long as he can still cut it at the top

Gary Mackay-Steven – another Dundee United acquisition from last year, he has made a reasonable contribution to the team albeit, not consistently. This is a player who has put in some fine games but needs to push on if he wants to keep a place in the team. Verdict: still looking for more from the winger

Ryan Christie – after signing in the summer he went back to his previous club on loan but now he is pushing for a place in the Celtic first team. Verdict: a very promising young player who could be very big for this club

Tom Rogic – I for one am glad this guy has made it into the first team. His services have been a rare joy this season and I look forward to seeing more and more from this exciting Australian. Verdict: Celtic should pull out all the stops to keep this guy

Scott Allan – many think a run in this team is long overdue for the former Hibs midfielder but his time will come. As established midfielders begin to age or become subject to transfer speculation I have no doubt he will be among this next wave of talent at Celtic who are the future of the club. Verdict: a key part of the future midfield

Stefan Johansen – even though he has been way off the boil this season he is still a big player for the club. His first season and a half were impressive and whilst this one has been largely forgettable, I think any suggestion of him being sold is utter nonsense unless it is what he wants. Verdict: needs to get back to his best next season

Patrick Roberts – on loan from Manchester City, this player has come highly recommended. With his services available at Celtic until next summer, Deila will be looking for this bedding in period to help the winger establish himself in the first team and play a key role next season particularly in Europe. Verdict: high expectations from his long-term loan

Callum McGregor – he is but one example who has responded to and performed for Deila. He is a big part of the team now and provides the team with a good attacking option. Verdict: has taken his chance at senior level

James Forrest – now at the age of 24 and in his 6th full season in the first team, the often exciting winger is now looking close to leaving the club after turning down a new contract. The contract was said to be a good one but the player obviously sees that differently. As much as I would hate to lose his services, injuries are a problem for Forrest and it could well be that was factored into the deal he was offered by the club. Verdict: likely to depart in the summer

Joe Thomson – a young player who still has age on his side, he has made just one sub appearance for the club. Like many other Celtic hopefuls, he has a lot of international experience with Scotland at across the youth teams from under-15 up to under-19 but lacks the first team experience to push past the current list of midfielders-in-waiting. Verdict: a loan move will be essential for his development

Liam Henderson – this is one player who has shown to be a promising talent both in the Celtic first team and out on loan. He burst onto the scene under Neil Lennon and continued that under Ronny Deila but in a congested midfield, he was sent out on loan to Rosenborg and now with Hibs where he has played more than 30 games this season. He has made a significant impact with both clubs in the space of a year. Verdict : undoubtedly a player I look forward to coming back and wearing the Hoops for many years to come

Leigh Griffiths – Celtic’s top player right now and prime candidate for player of the year. His goals are the statistical difference between first and second place in the league but his skill and touch are equally as impressive. Some strikers possess pace, some with a powerful shot but when on his game the touch displayed by Griffiths can be spectacular. Verdict: unplayable but needs more support at times from his midfield or a second striker

Colin Kazim-Richards – the “Coca-Cola Kid” hasn’t had the success he may have liked in football but he has certainly has had the clubs. The London born Turkish international has been around English and Turkish clubs with pit-stops in France, Greece, Holland and now Scotland. At 29 years old, he comes with experience but the real hard work will be done next season when he will be expected to provide more to this team. Verdict: only time will tell

Carlton Cole – the former England international penned a two-year deal with Celtic last year but has been a seldom seen figure. With the greatest of respect to the big fella, he is little more than a squad player who might provide a ‘presence’ up front at a key stage in a match. In all honesty his best years are behind him at West Ham United. Verdict: a curious signing but he’s all ours for another year!

Nadir Çiftçi – for a player we were all pretty much universal in our condemnation of, he has done little to appeal even to the most passive of Celtic fans. He got plenty of game time at the beginning of the season but it proved to be largely uninspiring despite scoring 4 goals in 11 league appearances. This loan spell Eskişehirspor has yielded 1 goal in 4 appearances but what has been more notable was that he subbed in his first game, then sent off in the second. It could happen to anyone but he never seems far from on-the-field controversy. Verdict: can Celtic afford another striker failure?

Stefan Šćepović – yet another striker who failed to hit the mark for the club. The Serb came with a reasonable scoring record from his previous club like fellow Celtic loanee, Çiftçi but struggled to make headway in the first team. All his 6 goals in 25 appearances last season earned him was a loan move to Getafe. Verdict: doubtful to return

Anthony Stokes – unlike the previous two loanees, Stokes has actually done a job for Celtic since he joining in 2010. Under Deila though, he has been frozen out. Off the field, Stokes has not helped himself and the club have frowned upon that. Verdict: Despite his skill and success he will be gone in the summer.

Aidan Nesbitt – of all the strikers out on loan, only this kid is a certainty to return t the fold. He has been hailed as one for the future and could well go out on loan again next season but if the current backup to Griffiths fail to deliver, you could be seeing this kid sooner rather than later. Verdict: great expectations

So, there you have it. My take on the current squad is that from front to back Celtic could or should be parting with Blackett, Ambrose, Boerrigter, Forrest, Stokes and Šćepović permanently but that list is by no means final.

The only player confirmed for this coming summer is Kristoffer Ajer who is yet another midfielder. At 17 he is much younger than anyone else in the Celtic team but a player which Deila has pursued with intent.

Next season this team could look very different in terms of regular appearances. Until then, there is work to be done and places being fought for to secure a league and cup double.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Backtracking

From time to time we humans get things wrong. The weather forecasters, politicians, bookies and even referees.

On Friday night, Craig Thomson got it wrong at New Douglas Park on quite a few occasions. One of those particular errors was the red card on Dedryck Boyata.

Despite the risk of the tackle, he got the ball fairly. In fact, it was a superb tackle.

The only thing that took the shine off it was that he was sent off. Had he stayed on the park we would have been talking about how good a tackle it was.

In fact if had it been Virgil van Dijk or Jason Denayer making that challenge we would have been singing their praises and admiring the sheer quality. Instead it was Dedryck Boyata who has yet to reach that level of respect among the Celtic support but it was a good tackle all the same.

As a result of that red card, Celtic lost control of the game for more than half of the match and not for the first time this season either. This is something we must be more careful of in future which in fairness to Ronny Deila, is most likely what upset him on the night.

A draw was acceptable under the circumstances even though Celtic were leading 1-0 at the time of the incident. In the aftermath of the game, Ronny Deila refused to lay the blame at the door of Craig Thomson.

Instead, Ronny was critical of Boyata not staying on his feet as I said earlier. Whilst I get what he was saying and the risk that Boyata took, you cannot argue that he won the ball cleanly.

I made the point in the last blog that I disagreed with Ronny on this. Yesterday, in complete u-turn, Celtic officially announced their intention to appeal Boyata’s red card.

There has obviously been a discussion about this within the club. Now Ronny’s opinion has changed whether it his own or someone else at the club.

The bottom line here is that Celtic are correct to appeal. It is also very likely that they will win this one as well.

What won’t change is the result against Hamilton. Fortunately for Celtic, Aberdeen threw away the chance to close the gap after drawing with St Johnstone.

The Dons were 1-0 up after 35 minutes and it stayed that way for some time. St Johnstone were then awarded a penalty in the 88th minute.

Like the Dedryck Boyata challenge at New Douglas Park, there was a similar case at Pittodrie for Aberdeen’s Ryan Jack. Derek McInnes said that the penalty claim was no excuse for the result, almost like he’d been taken a leaf out of Ronny Deila’s post match book.

I think it was a harsh penalty though. Just as Boyata’s red was badly judged.

At least the gap at the top remains in tact and the title challenge continues. Tomorrow night Celtic host mis-table Dundee whilst Aberdeen travel to Tannadice.

The two Dundee clubs are almost poles apart this season. Dundee are in a respectable 6th position whilst Dundee United achored at the foot of the table, fighting for Scottish Premiership survival.

It couldn’t be more different for Celtic and Aberdeen as they slug it out for the title. All eyes on tomorrow night.

On another backtracking moment, Tom Rogić has made it known he wishes to stay at the club. Surprise, surprise, the Scottish media reporting lies.

Whatever next? A Sevco warchest?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Stick or twist?

Ronny Deila’s job just got that little bit harder. In the wake of this season’s first Europa League defeat he is now under full scrutiny as Celtic manager.

Having weathered last season’s storm he and his players got into rhythm and looked to have turned a corner. This season we haven’t seen an improvement and are being worn down by the team’s own shortcomings.

I’ll nail my colours to the mast, I’m supporter of Ronny Deila and I want his plan to come to fruition. We’re not seeing evidence of it though.

There are many talking points on this. It doesn’t all come down to one person though.

Celtic have brought in and moved on some very good players in the last few years. That is where the club are at these days and I have no problem with that.

The most recent example is Virgil van Dijk. Rumours are not unfamiliar with Celtic but his departure was certified if the Champions League failed to materialise.

So with that eventually being te case and the on-loan Jason Denayer back at parent club Manchester City, Celtic no longer had a central defence. At best, Efe Ambrose was back up and certainly not a player to build your team around.

Mikael Lustig is a player whose skills and abilities have at times been hampered by injury. We’ve seen more of him recently and whilst that has been pleasing, he cannot carry the defence.

On the opposite berth, Emilio Izaguirre has had flashes in his debut season form. He is still often been found out defensively though which is why seeing young Kieran Tierney emerge has been encouraging.

With Adam Matthews departing for Sunderland and Darnell Fisher going out on loan to St Johnstone, Celtic were further weakened defensively. The arrival of Dedryck Boyata appeared to be swift and many would have though we were getting a maturer Denayer but I’ve yet to be convinced.

Celtic’s bold move for Jozo Šimunović at the supposed fee of £5.5M took be by surprise. For a player of his age there is a lot of pressure on him to match the valuation and with injury being his great contribution to the team, we’re still waiting to see what he can do.

Saidy Janko signed a four contract and fellow Manchester United colleague Tyler Blackett signed on loan to bolster the depleted ranks. Neither had a vast amount of first team experience though.

As yet, we have yet to see this current crop of defenders form an understanding. Many factors have played a part in this but it is alarming that Celtic are so vulnerable at the back.

Even the fine first season Craig Gordon had under Ronny Deila is beginning to look like a one off. So far he has escaped criticism from most but he has been as culpable as any Celtic defender this season.

So where do we go from here? Is it it just a failed defence that blights the Celtic cause or is there a bigger issue in play?

Celtic aren’t exactly prolific up front either these days or well endowed and despite the acquisition of Carlton Cole, he can’t play in Europe. That short sightedeness hurt Celtic last season and it appears we haven’t learned from that issue.

Like him or not, Stefan Šćepović should not have left the club without a suitable replacement.Nadir Çiftçi is not an out and out striker and we’ve entered this campaign without sufficient strikers.

The midfield on the other hand has a good supply of players. Even with the dip in form of Stefan Johansen, the performances of Nir Bitton and Tom Rogić have given us hope.

Even still, Kris Commons made his feelings known for all the world to see when he was substituted on Thursday evening. That was followed by a humble apology on Friday in front of the media.

As much as venting his spleen was unprofessional and underminding of the management, it did add weight to the fans argument that Ronny might be losing the fight. Many want him out and have done since last season.

Whist it is difficult to defend such appalling Celtic performances, I don’t wish to see Ronny Deila fail. I like the guy, I like that Celtic opted for a coach like him but this turn of events has made me wonder whether he has his reached limitations or simply requires more time to make things work.

Despite the Commons protest, the players have still come out and backed Deila. If the club are to get through this period it will only be done by standing together.

There needs to be a positive reaction to this bout of negativity. The Europa League is still salvageable and the Scottish Premiership remains on course but the one burning question for many is would Ronny Deila be given another crack at the Champions League?

Neil Lennon had two cracks at Europe before reaching the Champions League and one of those attempts was at the expense of FC Sion. Similarly, Ronny got another crack at Europe at expense of Legia Warsaw, albeit a different competition and different set of circumstance but as someone pointed out to me yesterday, Ronny has had better chances to get into the Champions League.

To ensure a third season happens, everyone at Celtic will have to step up there game. Not just Ronny Deila, but the players, the coaching staff and the scouts.

Today Celtic host Dundee United. With Aberdeen being held to a draw by Motherwell, Celtic have the chance to widen the gap at the top of the Scottish Premiership.

This team needs and enema.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

The story so far…

After eight Premiership matches this season, Celtic find themselves five points better off than at the same stage last season. By contrast, Aberdeen are a staggering eleven points up from the same way point.

For both clubs, this is an improvement on last season, a huge one for Aberdeen. Celtic had a game at hand in their locker during that period last year but that was never a guaranteed three points.

And here’s the funny thing, neither team sat in the top four spots at that time. Celtic didn’t even break into third place until 1st November and finally first, eight days later after beating Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

Throughout the time Celtic had been trying to get to the top, Aberdeen had kept them company around fifth and sixth place in the Premiership. Celtic had ascended quicker, ousting Dundee United, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and even Hamilton Academical from the berths above them.

Aberdeen lay in wait that bit longer and came gushing into second spot as Christmas came upon us. The gap was narrow but Celtic would prevail.

The story so far this season is somewhat different. Aberdeen have the upper hand and that’s what makes it really interesting.

Celtic are playing catchup to the team that ran them close last season. Derek McInnes is trying to eradicate last year’s errors and so far so good.

Today it’s back to league duty for everyone after a midweek of League Cup ties. With Aberdeen dumped out of that competition at the hands of Hibernian, they’ll be fully focused on the Premiership.

They’ll still be included in the Scottish Cup when it comes along but you can Derek McInnes will be making a bid for glory here. For Celtic though, they’re battling things out in four competitions.

Ronny Deila isn’t expected to win the Europa League. He is expected to win the treble though.

No rest for the wicked. Ronny Deila has had his work cut out him.

Yes, he has the superior squad, finances etc, etc. He’s also trying to change things at Celtic for long-term.

If it were simply a case of winning the league, double or treble then you would assume that whoever takes the helm at Celtic could achieve one of those quests. Ronny Deila is changing the entire culture at Celtic though and as he pointed out to the media, even with a league and cup double success from last season, he hasn’t won over all of his players.

In comments made to the media he stated that not every player has responded to his methods and targets. So even though guys like Bitton and Griffiths are examples of those who have conformed, some have found themselves on the fringes of his plans.

That being the case, it is not simply about winning the league. He has still to achieve an influence on his entire squad.

It certainly doesn’t sound as if he has lost the dressing room. Merely that some players are simply not up to the task.

In our hearts and minds I think we can work out who those players are likely to be. So there is another arc in Celtic’s progress this season especially with new players establishing themselves as well.

At this point in the season, it is still very early but as the end of 2015 comes, we’ll see who has earned themselves a regular spot and who has not. There is also a prime importance for Ronny Deila to establish a back four.

With Virgil van Dijk sold to Southampton and Jason Denayer back at Manchester City, it is a whole new central defence. Dedryck Boyata I have yet to be convinced by and I don’t think he’s looked anywhere near as good as Jason Denayer but he still has time on his side.

Jozo Šimunović has come with a huge price tag and a lot to prove. Ronny Deila has outlined him as a very good player but with only one game under his belt it will be some time before we know if the £5.5M paid was worth it.

On loan from Manchester United is Tyler Blackett and after a few games is also still finding his feet. His ability to play at left back or left centre back makes him useful as there is little cover for that position but just how much of an impact he will have is hard to tell at this stage.

Saidy Janko also came in from Manchester United and has looked good to me. I think his signature could turn it to be one of Deila’s best.

Kieran Tierney has also thrown his hat into the defensive ring this season and the signs are encouraging. The youth player has been given a few outings at left back under Deila and played well so I expect to see more of him throughout the season.

As for our more established defenders, you have Mikael Lustig, Efe Ambrose, Emilio Izaguirre and Charlie Mulgrew. When fit, Lustig could easily play for any team in Europe and if he can stay injury free he will be a key player for Celtic this season.

Ambrose fell out of favour last season and despite naturally fit player, he can still be held back by his decision-making and ability. Izaguirre is still an important player for Celtic and the challenge of Tierney and Blackett will keep him on his toes.

Mulgrew has seen himself back in defence more recently and is always an option for left centre back or left back. That will always depend on the opponent but he is equally utilised in the midfield.

What needs to be pin pointed is the central pairing in defence. Once established, Deila can make that partnership stick and when the need comes to make a single change, it should not be so disruptive.

Who those two players will be we have yet to find out. It will be key to Ronny Deila’s success this season on the domestic and European front if he can find a pairing that works.

So to today and Celtic host Heart of Midlothian at Celtic Park. Last seasons runaway Championship winners sit four points behind Celtic in the Premiership.

Their last three league matches have all been defeats and will be hoping to avoid a fourth today at the hands of the current Champions. Celtic utilised fringe players midweek against Raith Rovers but you can expect a strong team for today’s game.

Celtic need to win this one to keep pressure on Aberdeen. The Don’s are away to Inverness Caledonian Thistle and if it were last season I know who I’d put my money.

As it is, Inverness have had a poor start to this campaign with only one win in eight games. Pitting that statistic against an unbeaten Aberdeen gives you a rough idea where your money should go but you just never know when a form team can hit the skids.

Midweek was a slip up for McInnes but not for John Hughes, Ronny Deila or Robbie Neilson. All eyes will be on these two fixtures.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

Arrivals & Departures

In preparation for Wednesday’s clash with Malmö FF in the Champions League play-off, Celtic took the initiative against Inverness at home. A 4-2 win was a good victory though shipping two goals later in the game, not so much.

As far as home matches go, Celtic went about their business with reasonable finesse. Chances were plentiful and the Bhoys were ticking along nicely.

Two late goals were a reasonable consolation for Inverness I’m sure. Even though Ronny Deila was not overly concerned given the broader picture, I’m afraid to point out once more than Dedryck Boyata was at the heart of both these mistakes.

After a solid innings away to Qarabağ two weeks ago, I took back all of my criticism of the Belgian centre half. He’d made two poor defensive errors in recent games but I wiped the slate clean after a very good performance in Azerbaijan.

If Celtic are to excel in Europe, these kind of blips need to been wiped out forever. In the bigger games, i.e. the Champions League, these mistake are very costly.

By all means, if these errors can be blotted out in the games that matter, I’ll take the domestic ones on the chin. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned though.

Considering that van Dijk is still a possibility to depart, depending on what you believe, leaving your central defence in the hands of Dedryck and Efe doesn’t make it any easier to fathom.

Should Celtic succeed in making the group phase of the Champions League then Virgil is likely to stick around for that. I don’t think I’d be comfortable without his presence.

So it was refreshing to read online, moments after I finished drafting this current blog, that Jason Denayer could be heading back to Celtic. The Belgian had a superb season at Celtic and would be welcomed back with open arms if another loan is secured.

Whether Virgil stays or goes I’d sleep a lot better with Denayer in the squad. Another rumour doing the rounds is the return of Gary Hooper.

It isn’t the first time his return has cropped up since leaving Celtic. This time there does appear to be some substance.

Despite any interest Celtic still have four strikers on their books. Griffiths and Çiftçi have a future at the club but Stokes and Šćepović are in a different situation.

Whilst Šćepović has failed to make a real breakthrough Stokes has fallen out of the picture. If Hooper was a serious target for Celtic then one or both of these outsiders would likely leave.

Deila’s pursuit of a smaller squad can only be achieved by shipping some players out. Particularly if he wants to keep drafting new blood (or old blood if there is any truth to Denayer and Hooper coming back).

Tomorrow though, Celtic will need to work with the current squad and that includes new Bhoy Scott Allan. In terms of strength Celtic have it in abundance, particularly in midfield, so these matches are about making the right selection and deploying the correct tactics.

By the time tomorrow nights match kicks off, I’ll be descending from the skies over North America for a well deserved break. That means missing out on first leg live, but I’m hopeful of seeing the highlights later on in the evening.

With any luck, I should see the second leg live despite being in the middle of nowhere. Let’s hope both matches are worth waiting for!

All the best for tomorrow. Mon the Hoops!

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac