Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Will no treble mean trouble for Deila?

Ronny Deila's achievements with Celtic aren't all that special, given what he has to work with

One of the wonderful things about football is that luck can play a huge factor, more so than in most other sports.  Sure, over the course of a whole league season all good and bad fortune is evened out, and the cream rises to the top.  But individual matches can be decided, or at least swung, by events that are impossible to predict - say, a fortuitous ricochet that causes the ball to fall perfectly for a striker to score, or a loss of footing by a defender which allows an opponent to escape his marking, or (and you'll see where I'm going with this) a handball on the goalline that the officials inexplicably miss.

Just about anything Efe Ambrose does is impossible to predict.  You've got to admit that he's good value for money as an entertainer; he had twice nearly scored for Celtic before his red card, all in just under 15 minutes of action.  But his 'moment' in the League Cup semi-final, where he failed to recognise that Alex Schalk intended to cut across him and so clumsily impeded the Ross County striker, swung this match away from the Champions.  Playing with a man less for 75 minutes was too much of a handicap, and one that County took expert advantage of.

So Ronny Deila can probably sleep at night, thinking of how but for Josh Meekings last April and Ambrose's stupidity on Sunday, Celtic would probably be on their way to back-to-back trebles.  And it's probably true.  The worry for the club's support is that those thoughts may well be distracting him from the deficiencies of his side...though they have been laid bare too often this season.

Sunday's acute attack of deja vu may not have helped.  Following on from last season's catastrophe against Caley Thistle, too many Celtic players had a "here we go again" look to them, particularly after Paul Quinn put County in front just after half-time.  With Scott Brown fit enough only for a short second half cameo, there was a distinct lack of leadership.  Craig Gordon was entitled to be aggrieved by Quinn's goal (though his post-match claim that Schalk had "rugby-tackled" him was laughable) but his crazy hissy fit at the referee seemed well out of character.  Captain-for-the-day Mikael Lustig got booked for a swipe at Michael Gardyne, a foul borne out of frustration at not having got a decision moments earlier.

Stefan Johansen was the worst culprit, crudely hacking Liam Boyce in the dying seconds with no intention of anything other than injuring the player; he should have been sent off.  Johansen had also taken a swipe at Martin Woods earlier in the game that was missed by the officials, but his lack of discipline wasn't simply limited to violently attacking opponents.  For the umpteenth time this season, the Norwegian's limitations in a deep midfield role were exposed for all to see.  His failure to match the running and strength of Woods and Jackson Irvine in the middle of the park, as well as a lack of positional sense, left his centre-backs unprotected too often.  It's a luxury Celtic can afford in games where they dominate possession, but not in situations like this (or many a European game) where the other team are seeing plenty of the ball.

Looking beyond this season
So what now?  Celtic lead the Premiership by six points.  They should go on to retain the title with plenty of room to spare, although a midweek defeat at Pittodrie might well cause some widespread panic.  But a comfortable title win is the least that can be expected of a club whose budget is more than five times that of their nearest challenger, and greater than the other eleven clubs in the league put together.  Even a domestic double doesn't seem like too much to ask.

The trouble is, of course, the lack of European success, with back-to-back Champions League failures which cost the club around £10million each season.  Without Zadok The Priest as a distraction,  or indeed a run deep into the knockout stages of the Europa League, it's reasonable to ask if Deila is really doing a far superior job than you or me can manage.  For one thing, most of us would have at least tried to sort out the problems defending set pieces by now.

Therefore, Deila's future really depends on how much the board trust him to be third time lucky this summer and finally guide them through the European qualifiers.  But every time Celtic fail to get through, they will have to sell a Fraser Forster or a Virgil Van Dijk, and it becomes harder the next time.  Even if, this time round, Carlton Cole is an option off the bench.

Could Celtic really sack a manager who has won back-to-back league titles?  We'll find out in the next few months.  Unless a loss in the North-East suddenly frightens them into not waiting long enough to find out...

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