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 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

You go away for a few weeks…

…and you come back top of the league with a game at hand. Let’s deal with a more exciting storyline though shall we?

Celtic have made the Champions League group stage for the first time in three seasons. Brendan Rodgers has achieved in his first attempt, what Ronny Deila failed to do in his two seasons in charge.

When I last wrote on here, Celtic had just beaten St Johnstone and were off to Israel for the second leg playoff match against Hapoel Be’er Sheva. Despite having a three goal cushion, Celtic had two away goals against them to be concerned about.

The first half of that match was all about the home side. In fact so was the second.

With nothing to lose, Hapoel went all out for the three goals they needed.They missed a penalty, but they would eventualy score the opening goal of the game.

The penalty wasn’t one in my opinion, nor was it a yellow card for Saidy Janko. The save by Craig Gordon was justice for the referees poor decision.

Ben Sahar, a substitute for the concussed Lúcio Maranhão, made an immediate impact with his first touch. He got away from his marker, Scott Brown, to head home from a corner.

With Kieran Tierney, who had bandoned his near post position and Craig Gordon scrambling around they both failed to prevent it from going in. It was a decent goal by the Hapoel substitute and probably deserved for his team’s efforts. 

The manner in which Celtic lost it though left me questioning our marking system once again. The way Brendan Rodgers had setup Celtic for this match it appeared to allow him to alter the team shape if needed. 

It has to be said, there was very little evidence of alteration until very late on. More on that later.

The formation would remain as it was for most of the match. Not great for the nerves it must be said.

Hapoel had their tails up and the freedom of the park. You could argue that this was to be expected given the deficit they had to overturn and the fact the Israeli champions had home advantage.

The space they had to express themselves, caused by the gaps left by Celtic was risky. In managerial terms this might be described as ‘containing the opposition’ but this isn’t something we’ve seen Celtic do too often or effectively.

The second half saw one single change. Tom Rogic replaced James Forrest, with the aim of getting higher up the middle of the park as our wide players were making little headway. 

It didn’t take long for that change to be shattered as Celtic became involved in an unmistakable calamity. Janko, not having his best of games it must be said, ploughed straight into his keeper who had just collected a crossball. 

The momentum of Janko, who was keeping up with his opponent, Ovidiu Hoban, carried him straight into Gordon, knocking the ball out of his hands. The ball dropped kindly to Hoban who probably won’t score an easier goal in Europe.

If they weren’t doing so already, Hapoel were beginning to believe. Their dream was turning toward reality whilst Celtic’s was turning into a very familiar game of European self inflicted damage.

The Israeli champions began creating more and more chances. The Scottish champions weren’t creating, just defending.

Moussa Dembele replaced Leigh Griffiths hoping to spark a revival. He came close on 60 minutes when he curled a fine effort past the Hapoel goal.

Then another chance, this time by Scott Sinclair. His shot was parried and Dembele’s follow up blocked by the Hapoel defence.

On came Erik Sviatchneko for Callum McGregor. He came on with orders as well, which he duly passed in note form to captain Scott Brown – defend even more – it transpired.

With Hapoel still on the offensive, that third goal was looking closer and closer. Celtic were clinging onto the match by the skin of their teeth.

Every time a ball was loose it seemed to fall to Hapoel, but fatigue was begnning to set in. Celtic were digging deeper and deeper.

As the clock ticked down both sets of players were displaying multiple signs of pain and weariness. For the first time in the game I sensed that Hapoel might have run out of gas.

The 90 minutes were done and 4 were added on. With 3 minutes left, Hapoel got a freekick which they put high and wide.

Gordon was booked for time wasting. All the players were dead on their feet.

The seconds burned away slowly. Then came the final whistle!

For over ninety minutes, Celtic lived dangerously. The tactic deployed to contain isn’t something I’d like to see again, not for a whole match anyway.

Hapoel Be’er Sheva weren’t a bad side, but Celtic showed them too much respect. I’d like to have seen a few spells where Celtic put Hapoel under pressure but they didn’t.

Instead we let them play the entire match breaking only when the ball allowed us to. That didn’t really work for Celtic other than the fact the avoided a narrow aggregate defeat.

I didn’t enjoy a single minute of the match. Just in case you hadn’t picked that up previously. 

Now though, we’re back where we want to be in the Group Stage of the Champions League. And with that, a very familiar opponent. 

Much to my displeasure, Barcelona head up Group C. It would have been nice to play a team that we haven’t been drawn against so many times.

On the other hand, facing Manchester City will be refreshingly new. They may have finished 4th in the English Premier League but they have Pep Guardiola at the helm and a formidably financed team.

The final piece of the puzzle was Borussia Monchengladbach who like City, also finished 4th in their league. So there are only two current national champions in Group C.

The favourites will be Barcelona whilst Manchester City will be second favourites. Borussia Monchengladbach will be aiming for 3rd place but as we’ve seen in previous Champions League campaigns, strange things can happen for Celtic.

I know very little about the German side other than that last season they were grouped with Juventus, Manchester City and Sevilla in the Champions League. They finished bottom whilst City topped that group and even made it to the semi-finals losing out at the hands of eventual winners, Real Madrid.

So with Guardiola’s City battling it out with his old club Barcelona, Celtic have to focus on pipping the German side. At this stage, 3rd place would be fantastic.

The variables in the group phase are plentiful so it isn’t impossible. And let’s face it, nobody likes coming to Celtic Park except to witness one of the best atmospheres in world football.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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

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