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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Put in a good Ciftci and you could still have a future at Celtic

Despite the mass exodus of strikers at Celtic this summer, one fringe front man who may yet salvage a career at the club is Nadir Ciftci. The Turkish player was one of twelve players who took to the field in the second half of Brendan Rodgers’ first game in charge of Celtic.

It’s the first time we’ve seen Ciftci kick a ball for Celtic since he went on loan to Eskişehirspor in January 2016. His contribution up until that point was largely disappointing but it seems he has been given another shot.

For Dundee United, the club he was procured from in the summer of 2015, he was a key player. That never really transferred across to Celtic under previous coach Ronny Deila.

The real hope was that what he had demonstrated at United would be enhanced at Celtic, but it never turned out that way. Under new management of course you just never know, but for now he is back at Celtic and he has already made his mark in the preseason.

That will be a boost for him personally. What happens now is up to him. 

If he keeps scoring he’s in with a chance. Should that fail to materialse he could well find himself surplus to requirement.

Rodgers has already drafted in teenage goal scorer Moussa Dembele from Fulham. His addition to the ranks puts further pressure on Ciftci because like Leigh Grffiths, Dembele was scoring for fun ast season.

So the message is clear for Ciftci. Find the net as often as possible and you can have a career at Celtic.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac 

Preseason kicks off with a draw

Brendan Rodgers began his Celtic managerial career with a 2-2 draw in Slovenia. He watched his squad come back from 2-0 down to even things out with two second half goals.

Celtic conceded a goal either side of the interval to opponents NK Celje. The first came from corner, played out to the edge of Celtic penalty area and was hit home unchallenged in the 28th minute.

There were opportunities for Celtic to pull one back but went in at half time a goal down. For the second half, Brendan Rodgers sent out a fresh eleven players and within five minutes of the restart found themsleves 2-0 down from a freekick.

From that stage on it was pretty much all Celtic and before long they were back in the game. The half time changes had brought a better flow to the game for the Hoops.

Stuart Armstrong looked buoyant and provided Nadir Ciftci with a well delivered cross to nod home from close range in the 66th minute. Almost 10 minutes later he was provider once again picking out Tom Rogic who hit home a fine finish to draw level.

Two goals from open play was a pleasing sight particularly the way the second half eleven went about their buisness. Although a mere preseason friendly, there was plenty to be encouraged about.

I was impressed by the 12 players who played in the second half. I’ll single out Stuart Armstrong in particular but I felt the work rate, flow and stability from back to front in the second half was very positive.

Those who started the game will feel a little unlucky going in 1-0 down at half time and unable to remedy it in the second half. However, these are warm up games and everyone needs to get up to speed.

It also gives Brendan a good overview of individuals. Sunday’s game against Sturm Graz is likely to have yet another starting lineup.

Plenty to look forward to

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Dembélé signing marks a new era for Celtic

It was suggested by Brendan Rodgers that he would not draft in a whole new batch of players to Celtic. And he’s right because there is no need.

The current squad is huge and there are already sufficient numbers to work with. Performance levels have not been the best in the last few seasons but there is plenty of room for improvement and that is where Rodgers’ work will begin.

Under Ronny Deila, the attitude of some players was largely negative. He managed to motivate some whilst others drifted way out of the picture.

That wasn’t healthy and it is obvious he didn’t have everyone in his corner. Although that was a theory that was never publicly proven, there were clearly divisions within the squad.

Ronny didn’t gain the respect of some and he dealt with it the only way he knew. He didn’t possess the character or that big club mentality to deal with certain matters.

At the end of the day he was a coach and probably a really good one. As for management, the Celtic job was too great for him.

Under Brendan Rodgers we will see something different. Not just because he is the new guy, but because he has admirers in the game already and has worked with large egos.

Brendan has now made his first signing and it will be one which defines him at Celtic. Moussa Dembélé has joined the ranks and despite being just 19 years old, he is already making a name for himself.

His goal tally brought the attention of many but Celtic moved quickly and will offer a fresh perspective to the Celtic attack. Up until now we have relied heavily on Leigh Griffiths and he has not let us down.

All those other pretenders that arrived with the promise of goals handed now departed. Cole, Kazim-Richards and now Scepovic. 

It remains to be seen whether Ciftci also faces the axe. I’m of the opinion that he’ll be given a second chance and if no improvement is seen before Christmas he’ll be off to.

In the meantime, Brendan has his first signing and it looks like a good one. One, possibly two more are certain to follow.
This existing squad of players can do so much better than we have seen the last two or three years. You don’t suddenly become a bad player when there is enough historical evidence to show you are anything but that.

There are a few left in the squad who either won’t fit the bill in my opinion or have this season to prove their worth. Not just to Brendan Rodgers, but to the Celtic supporters as well.

I’ve already been through the entire squad with a fine tooth comb in a previous article. No need to redo that.

There is one player who should definitely leave this summer because he is simply not good enough. There are also four or five who have yet to convince me they are worthy to wear the Hoops at all.

Under Rodgers, they will get another chance but if they don’t shape up they must be shipped out promtly. There are plenty of candidates in this squad and in the development side desperate for a chance.

Things are coming together and preseason is already under way. The squad are over in Slovenia and take on NK Celje in their first summer friendly.

It might be a preseason match but I’m already excited at seeing Brendan’s first game in charge. Let’s hit the ground running.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

A game at hand

Aberdeen responded to Celtic’s victory over Hearts  on Saturday with a very convincing win over visitors, Hamilton Academical on Sunday. So now it is down to Celtic to finally utilise that game at hand against Dundee tomorrow night and ensure that 7 point gap between first and second place becomes a real thing.

Once Tuesday night’s three Scottish Premiership fixtures have been played, all clubs will have reached the 32 game mark. Matchday 33 is the final set of fixtures before the league split and the pick of these involves 3rd versus 2nd on Friday night.

Hearts host Aberdeen at Tynecastle on to kick off the weekend and this will be a game worth watching for two reasons. One will be that Hearts are aiming to close the gap on the Dons and the other will be the effect this result could have on Celtic’s title chances.

A win for the Jambos would put a severe dent in the Dons’ hopes of catching Celtic. Matches involving Aberdeen, Celtic and Hearts after the split will be very significant in this title race.

As for Celtic, well it’s all about dispensing of Dundee tomorrow night first. They will face a determined effort from the Dee who are battling for that sixth placed spot.

They ousted Ross County from the top half of the league after a 5-2 demolition on Saturday. Even a point at Celtic Park on Tuesday would be helpful enough to keep them as favourites for sixth place before the split.

So it is unlikely Celtic will get it easy at Celtic Park tomorrow night as it is just as important a match for both teams. Once more though, Celtic will be expected to display their title credentials.

They must respond to Aberdeen’s three goal dismantling of Hamilton in the first 33 minutes of Sunday’s match at Pittodrie. Celtic’s last meeting with Paul Hartley’s side ended in a 0-0 draw at Celtic Park and should serve as a reminder to Ronny Deila that his players will meet a stubborn side.

Celtic’s home and away stats are very similar and the same can be said for last season. Consistent yes but what we all want to see is more conviction in those displays, home or away.

We’ve fallen short in key areas this season, some being individual performances. So far we’ve conceded more goals than last season and have yet to score the same amount.

Our goals against can’t improve on last year but goals for can. And that’s what will win games, as Saturday’s win over Hearts proved.

An unsettled defence has not helped that scenario for Ronny Deila this season but there are signs that things are settling down at the back. That needs to be built upon right through the midfield to the front line.

Plans are already under way for next season already. One of those players not in the plans is Derk Boerrigter.

Finally, Celtic have ended their ‘relationship’ with the Dutch flop. ‘Sicknote’, as he is better known, is one of the worst signings ever made by the club.

Whoever scouted and sanctioned the money for this guy should be held accountable. Given his track record, this player should never have been touched with a barge pole.

Whilst I accept that not all signings will work out there were enough warning signs not to gamble with him. Celtic did though and it was an empty jersey for almost three years.

At least players like Pukki, Šćepović and Çiftçi gave more in a short space of time and have resale value. How do you sell a donkey though?

Simple, you don’t. Instead you take a financial hit and this is one error we would like to but are unlikely forget.

Thanks for the memories Derk. There’s been few.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Freeze out the Icelanders!

Tonight Celtic return to Iceland for the second year running for a Champions League Qualifier. Last year it was KR Reykyavik who were the opponents and the away leg came first but this year they face Stjarnan and with the second leg being away.

Celtic are 2-0 up from the first leg and as we all know the job should have been finished at Celtic Park. As it stands, Ronny Deila will need to approach this match with just the right amount of caution.

Starjnan parked the bus in Glasgow and relied heavily on their keeper. Celtic on the other hand were short of match sharpness and had they been on a higher percentage of fitness would have put the men from Iceland to the sword.

I’m not being disrespectful to the Icelandic champions, but if you come to Celtic Park and play the way they did, you deserve a hiding. Tonight I would be satisfied with a similar result though with the importance being a clean sheet.

It’s another highly important game because of the impact this competition has on Celtic’s season. To lead the way tonight my preference for the striking role would be Leigh Griffiths.

His performances in pre-season and since joining overal have been a transformation worth watching. When he first signed I questioned it but as I have said umpteen times before on here, he has proven me wrong and I am happy to accept it.

I’m sure Nadir Çiftçi’s time will come even if his domestic ban slows him down though I fancy him to feature at some point. A long suspension isn’t exactly the best start to your career at a new club but Celtic were well aware of what they were getting into before they moved for him.

However, I think this match will suit Griffiths perfectly and I’d be giving him the nod for sure. He will be keen to get off the mark in Europe and after the penalty miss of last week (thanks to Stefan Johansen) it’s a big occasion for him.

On this day last year Celtic ran out 4-0 winners at Murrayfield to KR Reykjavik with goals from van Dijk (2) and Pukki (2). This was following a 1-0 win away with the  goal coming from Callum McGregor.

He misses out tonight as does Kris Commons, both sidelined with injury. Van Dijk returns to the fold though after serving a suspension carried over from last season, but the one man who was sorely missed at this stage last season was Scott Brown.

His presence in the team, though still undervalued by many, is important. Good or bad, he is influential, he is the captain and I’d always have him in the team.

In order to progress this evening, Celtic need to keep things simple, tidy and error free. Stjarnan will no doubt have a go on their own turf but Celtic should be looking to put this tie to bed.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac