Restart

After Sunday’s disappointing result at Tynecastle, Celtic had to respond. On and off the field of play.

On Wednesday we witnessed a response. On and off the field of play.

Marvin Compper joined Celtic from RB Leipzig on a two-and-a-half year deal. He was later paraded in front of Celtic fans attending Paradise for the visit of Partick Thistle.

Compper comes with a wealth of experience and acknowledged what the club means to the fans and his desire to play for Brendan Rodgers. All that was left for Celtic to do was to get a result in the Glasgow derby.

Celtic scored a goal in each half to secure a 2-0 win. There was nothing inspiring about the match overall, but it was the result that was important here.

Stuart Armstrong scored a terrific goal at a crucial stage in the first half. Kieran Tierney did the same in the second half to ease the minds of the fans.

This was the kind of response that the support wanted even if the stadium was a bit on the empty side. Though at this time of year it is not entirely unusual to see empty seats midweek the week before Christmas.

Celtic have now used their game at hand to give themselves a five point cushion. That’s a real positive with the game against 2nd placed Aberdeen on Saturday.

We’re now in entering the last three games of 2017. Two home matches and one away match aren’t a bad way to end the year either.

And what a year it has been so far. The completion of a treble in May and the possibility of another starting with the League Cup victory last month.

Then there is the unbeaten run. Whilst we process the obvious disappointment at that coming to an end, take time to remember what a marvellous achievement that has been.

Not just for the club or for us fans, but for a manager who has done so since taking charge of the team in the summer of 2016. 69 domestic games unbeaten is a tremendous feat which may never be beaten again in my lifetime or yours.

When you consider how far back the winning run goes you have to appreciate the effort even more. Also, the amount of games Celtic have had to play over and above every other domestic opponent is staggering.

Mentally it feels as though last season has finally come to an end and a new one has just begun. Is it any wonder the players having been looking a bit jaded?

I think this unbeaten run has been more of a drain on the players than we realised. Not a motivator in slightest.

With that pressure gone hopefully some focus will return to the current season. That they’ll begin to prove themselves all over again.

And to think, Brendan Rodgers has worked largely with an inherited squad. He hasn’t quite given it his own look just yet.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is more to come from the Brendan Rodgers era.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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How does Marvin Compper to who we have already?

Marvin Compper is expected to sign for Celtic should he agree terms and pass a medical. It’s a swift move by Brendan Rodgers for a troublesome position though perhaps six months later than some may have preferred.

Celtic started their competitive campaign back in early July. They’ve had injury issues in attack and defence since then, but no immediate action was taken.

As close to full strength as Celtic have ever been this season, they’ve still looked weak at the back. Form seems to have abandoned Dedryck Boyata whilst injury has held back Jozo Simunovic.

The Belgian was largely unconvincing under Ronny Deila. He rose from the treatment table later into last season though and impressed under Brendan Rodgers.

Further injury left him on the sidelines this season. Upon his return he hasn’t looked particularly confident.

Jozo Simunovic is by far Celtic’s best central defender at the moment. However, he is prone to injury and protected from playing on artificial surfaces.

If this is Brendan Rodgers best central defensive pairing then Compper only has stay fit and do his job to be a success. Celtic desperately need their back line to hold especially in Europe.

The only central defender Brendan Rodgers has ‘invested’ in since arriving in 2016 was Kolo Toure. There’s no doubt he brought some influence and stability in the short-term, but even he wasn’t the long-term answer for Celtic’s defensive woes.

We’ve seen too many tryouts at the back this season. Nir Bitton and Kristoffer Ajer are both midfielders, but both have been deployed at the back in several games.

Erik Sviatchenko looked out of favour last season despite his availability but at the same time hasn’t been entirely convincing. Out with injury for months now, it’s been rumoured he might even get shipped out.

It seems unclear whether Ajer will ever take up a role at the back permanently. Anytime a space needs filling Brendan has opted for Bitton instead which doesn’t exactly sound like Ajer has a future for that position at Celtic.

Should Ajer want to succeed in adapting to  centre back then he might need some more game time and that could end up being elsewhere. With the amount of inconsistency at the back this season I would suggest he would have been no more of a risk for Brendan Rodgers though.

With this pending signature of Compper many of us are hoping that the current Leipzig player will bring some stability. At 32 years-old he has experience, but does this largely unknown German have the attributes to shore things up at the back?

There hasn’t been any indication if this is a loan deal with a view to buying or a permanent deal. If the latter of the two then it would either be a one-and-a-half or a two-and-a-half year deal.

Personally, I just want the guy to succeed and to steady the ship. This is a priority for Brendan Rodgers.

Celtic will need to contend without new blood until after the winter break though. That means bouncing back tomorrow night at Celtic Park against Partick Thistle.

The home tie may just be the tonic the players need to rebound from Sunday’s setback. They then have to contend with Aberdeen at home on Saturday, away to Dundee next Tuesday and then Rangers at Celtic Park a week on Saturday.

It’s a tough end to a long first half of the season. The three-week break in January will do the team some good.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

All good things…

There comes a point when every journey must end. When a cycle has run its course.

That time was Sunday at Tynecastle. Brendan Rodgers’ unbeaten domestic run has come to a halt after 69 matches without a loss.

Few would have envisaged it happening in such a manner, but Celtic were diabolical. The stats will show a more even game, but the truth is that the Hoops failed to impose themselves in this game sufficiently.

The conditions were poor but also exactly the same for both teams. Yet Celtic seemed to be the only ones struggling to maintain composure and footing.

I don’t know if stats are recorded for players falling over. If there is then Celtic won that by a quite a long way.

Going to ground was beginning to look like a new addition to the game. Why Celtic players couldn’t rectify that issue is beyond me.

I’m not going to single out any one player as many Celtic fans have and continue to do. As a team Celtic failed miserably and so did the manager.

They didn’t cope with the conditions and Hearts punished them with four goals and no reply from the visitors. On the officiating side of things Willie Collum certainly didn’t do us any favours contrary to the popular belief of many that he’s “one of ours”.

Our Scottish media have been waiting a great many days for this result. You’d be hard pushed to miss the glee in the voices and on the faces of the pundits.

As much it wrangles me I have to give credit to Hearts for causing an upset though. They didn’t just beat Celtic they got a solid result.

So now the counter has been reset for Brendan Rodgers and for the better. I’m not saying that losing was good because I had hoped to maybe go a bit longer and maybe even until the end of the season.

In truth this defeat had to happen. The longer things went on the greater the pressure and this invincible run was like a millstone around our neck.

Celtic, despite the current side’s greatness, look tired and off the pace compared to last season’s performances. That doesn’t mean they haven’t carved out goals, assists or results, but they’ve lacked the same conviction and prowess this season.

Scott Sinclair is perhaps the epitome of Celtic right now. Playing without the same verve as last season but still top of the statistical charts.

In Europe progress has been made but only just. The parachute into the Europa League has given Celtic European football after Christmas, but it was a narrow escape from a group of death in a disappointing campaign that fizzled out at home to Anderlecht.

Despite wiping the floor with them in Belgium they overwhelmed Celtic at home. Craig Levein claimed to have used the same tactics in order to get a result but I won’t be cross-examining him in this blog.

This season we’ve seen Brendan Rodgers take some stick for Champions League performances. To take this team to the next level he will require further tweaking on the training ground and delving into the transfer market.

Celtic can still improve, but they will always have limitations where money is concerned. Nobody should be under any illusions about that.

How far can Celtic go under Brendan Rodgers? Further we all hope.

Sunday’s defeat might just be the jolt Celtic needed. There were signs our form might be picking up, but Hearts gave Celtic a game and put that to bed.

I’m not going to join the bandwagon of mudslingers within our ‘support’. Whilst understanding how hard Sunday’s defeat was to take, some of the reaction has been nothing short of embarrassing.

Individual players are now being hounded out by some of the fan base. Wow, what a low point that is for the best fans in the world.

Some of last season’s heroes are now done apparently. Time to go.

And maybe one or two will but Celtic need to get up off the canvas. Get back in the fight and move things forward.

There hasn’t been a flurry of activity in the transfer market. What has been done is that the team has been reduced to a workable size.

Now we know where those weaknesses are. January should be earmarked for forward planning and how to finish off the season.

As I said earlier though, it is as much about the training ground as the transfer market. These players don’t suddenly turn poor after a good season.

I made the point when Stefan Johansen had an amazing first full season only to be a shadow of that in the season that followed. You don’t become a bad player over night, there is always a reason.

My hope is that this invincible run coupled with a heavy schedule of games with an expectation to win all of them can now be put to bed. That a weight has been lifted with the monkey firmly off their back.

Now it is time to get back in the fight and move on. There is always pressure as a Celtic player but the one we’ve just disposed of will do this team some good.

The players will respond. The manager will respond.

We start over on Wednesday night at Celtic Park. This is a time to get behind the team and the manager…all of us.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Europa League awaits

Celtic ended their Champions League campaign with an unexpected defeat. It was a rather flat performance for the home side, but they have made it into Monday’s Europa League draw.

It was a strange post match feeling. The expectancy to win coupled with a defeat left me feeling deflated yet satisfied at securing a last 32 spot in European football’s other tournament.

Anderlecht started the match better. Celtic seemed unable to produce anything similar to the Belgians until the second half.

They also provided Anderlecht with the winning goal. Jozo Simunovic’s header beat Craig Gordon meaning the Belgians failed to score against Celtic home and away. 

Given their seeding and player budget that has to be a disappointing result for Anderlecht. Celtic on the other hand have beaten the odds.

Regardless of the result, I’m pleased Celtic are still in European competition. For two more matches at least. 

Being unseeded means a tough draw but to be fair Celtic will be up against it anyway. It would be nice to get a run in the Europa League for experience if nothing else. 

I’m certainly not expecting Celtic to win the tournament. This team has potential but there are a number of areas that still require attention.

With any luck those areas have already been identified and will be addressed in due course. January would be a good time to start.

Celtic don’t require major surgery. Brendan Rodgers does need to consider his defensive frailties, the loss of Paddy Roberts and improving Celtic on the European stage. 

Any departures are unlikely until the summer. Next season will be tougher to get into the Champions League so investing now for a possible run in the Europa League would be good preparation.

For now, we can breathe easy for a few months. European football will be waiting for us after Christmas.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

67: Motherwell the best preparation for Anderlecht

Motherwell came to Celtic Park on Saturday for the teams’ third meeting of the season. All in the space of seven days and at three different venues.  

We know the previous stories. They’ve been all over the news.

Penalties, diving, club statements and media frenzy. What a week it has been.

Motherwell have had something to say recently. Their form has been good and they have some overall potential once again.

What they shouldn’t have done was let that go to their heads too much. There’s an overwhelming sense of self-importance emanating from Fir Park because of two penalties.

Whichever way you lean with regards to those two incidents, Motherwell are getting ahead of themselves. They’re on the up, but they need to repeat their efforts before they begin to become a mainstay at the top of the Premiership.

Over the three games, Celtic were a far better side. I have no complaints with any of the results and now the unbeaten run stands at 67 matches.

The drubbing dished out to the Steelmen on Saturday was a perfect way to end a turbulent week. It has also set Brendan Rodgers’ players up for an important game tomorrow night at Celtic Park.

Anderlecht are in Glasgow for the final group phase match. They are seeking their first win and Celtic are aiming to stop that.

The Belgians have to overturn Celtic 0-3 to go through. Given that Celtic beat Anderlecht by the same scoreline away from home, many are hoping this is an unlikely scenario at Celtic Park.

However, Anderlecht now have nothing to lose and will all out to save their European season. They will face a Celtic side currently on a high though.

Much has been made of Celtic’s dismal home form in Europe. The majority of which has been against superior opposition.

European football after Christmas hasn’t been secured for three seasons. A home win in the Champions League even further back.

I am confident that Celtic can do this for a number of reasons. Not just because of the score from the first leg in Belgium.

Celtic haven’t been a maximum strength all season but it is getting closer. Some players have rightly been rested in order to take in this match.

Some players are beginning to find their form. James Forrest is setting the scene on fire and at a time when Paddy Roberts has been sidelined.

Scott Sinclair who despite scoring many goals so far, hasn’t been at his best. In the last couple of games he has looked better and perhaps some bench warming has played a part in that.

Odsonne Edouard exploded into form against Motherwell at the weekend with a fantastic hattrick. With the return of Moussa Dembele and the in form Leigh Griffiths Celtic are well equipped in front of goal.

Although yet to be outright convincing, a central pairing of Jozo Simunovic and Dedryck Boyata will set everyone’s minds at rest. As injury prone as these two have been they are also the best we have for now so I’m delighted they will both be available.

Our full backs, Mikael Lustig and Kieran Tierney may be about a decade apart in age, but they each provided Celtic with good defensive and attacking roles. Scott Brown is having another amazing season as well.

Even in the games where Celtic were being outgunned by superior opposition, Broony has been at the heart of the fight. The club captain is a vital part of the Brendan Rodgers machine.

He is also surrounded by a set of interchangeable players who make up the midfield. Whether it is Olivier Ntcham, Stuart Armstrong, Callum McGregor or Tom Rogic there is a blend for every game.

Other contributors this season have been Nir Bitton, Kristoffer Ajer and Eboue Kouassi. They have all come in and shown decent form during tough matches.

Craig Gordon has been Celtic’s number one again but he has not been without mistakes. Thankfully, he still has the ability to pull off good saves though his time as number could come under scrutiny come the end of the current season.

Overall, the squad is strong and of a manageable size. Come January though there may be some further tweaking.

If Celtic make it to the last 32 of the Europa League, some bolstering will be required. Better to do it then than wait until the summer.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

Route 66

Just when I thought the bubble was about to burst, Celtic go a claw it back. A 1-1 draw allowed Brendan Rodgers’ players to extend their lead at the top of the Premiership to 4 points (following Aberdeen’s capitulation at Ibrox) and a domestic unbeaten run to 66 games.

Mikael Lustig’s 78th minute own goal was beginning to look like Fir Park would be the ground where things would turn sour for Celtic once again. Then Callum McGregor won a penalty in the 87th minute much to the disappointment of the SMSM.

The spot kick was converted by Scott Sinclair, the Celtic player involved in Sunday’s controversial decision at Hampden. Was this a penalty or was it the wrong decision?

From the poor footage I’ve seen, it’s very unclear. I wasn’t happy with the cup final penalty, but this one I can’t judge because there simply isn’t enough video evidence from the Celtic TV footage.

Motherwell may feel they’ve been robbed again, but in the two meetings they’ve had with Celtic this season so far, they’ve yet to put the ball in the net themselves. I still maintain the Lanarkshire club a team on the up so on the whole I’m pretty happy Celtic got the draw.

A third game against the Steelmen takes place at Celtic Park on Saturday. I’d like to see this one marked up as an early win. 

In preparation for Anderlecht on Tuesday, Celtic need to set themselves up in a positive manner. It’s a tough schedule ahead for the Hoops and an equally crucial phase for success this season. 

With the squad reduced to a much more manageable size it is easier to see where the weaknesses are. Injury and form are obvious contributors, but after this full-on period, strengthening is a must for Brendan in January.

I’m still impressed by what I’m seeing, but an injection of personnel in the right areas, along with a winter break for Scotland’s best team, will allow Brendan Rodgers to make strides. Every team is out their to stop the invincibles and Celtic must rise to the challenge…at home and abroad. 

Hail! Hail! 

Stevie Mac

Sixty-five

Four trophies, sixty-five domestic games unbeaten. Marvellous.

It’s a moment to behold. We should cherish it among ourselves though folks.

Don’t expect the red carpet treatment from anyone other than ourselves. It’s only a huge achievement which continues to grow after all.

It is also another step closer to greatness. This will not go down well in some places.

Speaking of going down, Scott Sinclair. I’m bringing this matter up for two reasons. 

Firstly I’m sure the SMSM will raise it themselves. Also, I was disappointed by the act myself.

Scotty hasn’t had the best of seasons so far. That’s despite scoring 11 goals in 23 games to date.

He hasn’t hit the heights of last season in terms of match performances. At Hampden on Sunday that didn’t change. 

There was one point in the match against Motherwell when he encountered Cedric Kipre. Sinclair went to ground and as he did I uttered that Thomson better hope he got this one right. 

He didn’t. He awarded Celtic a penalty. 

From the live footage I thought it was a dubious decision. The replay cemented that thought.

Kipre, who should have been red carded for a dangerous foul on Moussa Dembele earlier, made minimal hand contact with Sinclair in the box. Last season’s award winner went down easily and a penalty was awarded. 

It wasn’t a penalty. I’m not trying to be hard on Sinclair either.

I just don’t like simulation or cheating. Particularly if you’re already struggling with form as Scotty is.

Perhaps that was his motivation. Get a penalty, get himself in on the act again. 

No. Not for me. 

Celtic were already doing enough in this game to justify their lead. Sinclair’s decision only gave Motherwell, and our pitiful SMSM, cause to bemoan the eventual defeat.

Aside from that it wasn’t a bad final. Motherwell were set up well, Celtic tried to break them down.

There were a few challenges that escaped  punishment and some that didn’t when they perhaps should’ve. On the balance I have no doubts Celtic deserved the win overall.

Motherwell have done well to turn their fortunes around. They have a good formula and hopefully will continue to build upon that.

For Celtic this was a convincing win though. They weren’t troubled too much.

Once again I thought James Forrest was fantastic. He’s certainly keeping the critics quiet right now. 

Callum McGregor also turned a fine performance. A fine player.

It’s one of the best Scottish contingents I’ve seen at Celtic since the eighties. With any luck that’ll continue to grow.

For now it’s a job well done by Brendan and the Bhoys. Let’s keep the green flag flying high. 

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac