Sunday, July 26, 2015

2015/16 Premiership preview - Celtic

Celtic crest

LAST SEASON: 1st, 92pts

NOTABLE INS: Dedryck Boyata (Manchester City, £1.5m), Nadir Ciftci (Dundee United, £1.2m), Logan Bailly (OH Leuven, £250k), Saidy Janko (Manchester United)

NOTABLE OUTS: Adam Matthews (Sunderland, £2m), Amido Balde (Metz), Joe Chalmers (Motherwell), Holmbert Fridjonsson (KR Reykjavik), John Herron (Blackpool), Jackson Irvine (Ross County, loan made permanent), Teemu Pukki (Brondby, loan made permanent), Michael Duffy (Alloa Athletic, loan), Jason Denayer (Manchester City, end of loan), John Guidetti (Manchester City, end of loan), Aleksandar Tonev (Aston Villa, end of loan), Mubarak Wakaso (Rubin Kazan, end of loan), Lukasz Zaluska

LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (departed players crossed out): Gordon, Lustig, Denayer, Van Dijk, Izaguirre, Brown, Bitton, Forrest, Commons, Johansen, Griffiths

As is the annual tradition, let's start by congratulating Celtic on winning the 2015/16 Scottish Premiership title.

Come on, it's inevitable.  They won the league by 17 points last season.  The worst that can happen is that Aberdeen narrow the gap a bit.  At best, we might be able to pretend there's a contest right up to Easter again.

This makes previewing Celtic's season hard, because having more resources than every other Premiership club put together means they have better players in every position too.  So any criticism has to be taken in the context of where the club are aiming to be - back in the group stages of the Champions League.  For all their domestic dominance, a second successive failure to get through the qualifiers would leave another enormous hole in their finances.

It's not as if, compared to Celtic bosses of the past, Ronny Deila has been given a huge budget to work with.  So far this summer the net spend is less than a million pounds; the last time the club's net spend in a season was seven figures was when Gordon Strachan was boss.  And missing out on the big bucks last season won't have helped.  But the team were impressive enough in the first half of 2015 to reassure Deila that only some tinkering is required, rather than a major overhaul.

And so the transfer activity has been concentrated on filling gaps left by departing players.  One backup keeper out (Lukasz Zaluska), one in (Logan Bailly); one centre-back out (Jason Denayer), one in (Dedryck Boyata); one right-back out (Adam Matthews), one in (Saidy Janko), one striker out (John Guidetti), one in (Nadir Ciftci).  Time will tell if the new faces are an improvement on what's gone before.

Deila can afford all of the new boys to be failures bar Boyata, who he needs to do well - not only to replace the outstanding loanee Denayer, but because it seems inevitable that Virgil Van Dijk will leave once the European qualifiers are over.  If that means the disaster-prone Efe Ambrose is playing more regularly this season, the league might be marginally more interesting.  The £1.2million spent on Ciftci was a curious move; whilst he is proven against league opponents, is he really better than what they've already got?  And has he got the ability for the big European stage?  We'll see.

Celtic won't be short of goals on weekends though.  And even if he joins Stefan Scepovic as a bust, they can still turn to Leigh Griffiths and Anthony Stokes.  The attacking midfield options are delicious - only three out of Gary Mackay-Steven, Stuart Armstrong, Kris Commons, Stefan Johansen, James Forrest and Ciftci would play, which leaves the prospect of the others being available as subs.  Scott Brown and Nir Bitton will boss every other midfield in the country, though it would be nice to see young Liam Henderson get some action too.

Even if Janko isn't impressive (and he probably will be, given that Manchester United wanted to keep him), Mikael Lustig will be fit again at right-back.  On the other side, Emilio Izaguirre seems to have had a new lease of life under Deila after a few unremarkable seasons.  And of course they're set with Craig Gordon in goal.

But can they succeed in Europe?  I'm not sure.  They're definitely more cohesive and  more impressive than twelve months ago, and they will be seeded in every qualifying round, but there are some very difficult opponents out there.  If they do get through, I imagine they'd be favourites to finish bottom of a group.  But let's cross that bridge when they come to it.  Just being in the Champions League will be enough.

Win a treble and progress in Europe, and Deila will be a deity.  Accomplish neither, and it'll be interesting to see whether five-in-a-row and a single cup (or even none at all) will be sufficient to stave off any grumbling.

THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1994 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Logan Bailly, Craig Gordon
Defenders: Efe Ambrose, Dedryck Boyata, Darnell Fisher, Emilio Izaguirre, Saidy Janko, Mikael Lustig, Charlie Mulgrew, Eoghan O'Connell, Kieran Tierney, Virgil Van Dijk
Midfielders: Stuart Armstrong, Nir Bitton, Derk Boerrigter, Scott Brown, Kris Commons, Liam Henderson, Stefan Johansen, Gary Mackay-Steven, Dylan McGeouch, Callum McGregor, Tom Rogic
Forwards: Nadir Ciftci, James Forrest, Leigh Griffiths, Stefan Scepovic, Anthony Stokes


Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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