Friday, August 5, 2016
2016-17 Premiership preview - Celtic
PREDICTED LEAGUE POSITION: CHAMPIONS
LAST SEASON: Champions, 86pts
NOTABLE INS: Kristoffer Ajer (Start, £500k), Moussa Dembele (Fulham, £500k), PJ Crossan (Dunfermline Athletic, £130k), Kolo Toure (Liverpool)
NOTABLE OUTS: Colin Kazim-Richards (Coritiba), Stefan Scepovic (Getafe, loan made permanent), Anthony Stokes (Blackburn Rovers), Scott Allan (Rotherham United, loan), Michael Duffy (Dundee, loan), Joe Thomson (Dumbarton, loan), Tyler Blackett (Manchester United, end of loan), Derk Boerrigter, Carlton Cole, Charlie Mulgrew
LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): Gordon, Lustig, Boyata, Sviatchenko, Tierney, Brown, Bitton, McGregor, Rogic, Roberts, Griffiths
A trained monkey could have guided Celtic to a fifth consecutive title last season. No, I don't think that's unfair on Ronny Deila at all; having a wage budget greater than the sum of the eleven other Premiership clubs put together means an enormous advantage in quality and depth. The fact that Aberdeen weren't completely shaken off until well into the Spring, along with embarrassing semi-final failures in both domestic cups and a completely incompetent European campaign, meant that the Norwegian had to go.
It's hard to see how they can be quite so far below the sum of their parts again...or it was until the debacle in Gibraltar against Lincoln Red Imps. Time will tell if that was just a blip, or an early sign that either Brendan Rodgers is not the tactical guru he likes to think he is, or even that the much needed clearout isn't happening fast enough.
Perhaps Rodgers doesn't have the budget the Scottish media wanted us to believe he would when he replaced Deila - the idea that Joe Allen might ever have been tempted to Glasgow always seemed ludicrous - or maybe he's just waiting for the right players to become available. That would be dangerous, as the Bhoys badly need reinforcements for the remaining Champions League qualifiers. Tempting Moussa Dembele north was impressive - the Frenchman was linked with Spurs in January - but much, much more is required.
For all his talent, Dembele plays in one area where Celtic aren't lacking - up front. Early signs are that Player of the Year Leigh Griffiths icould be punted out to the flank, where he'll be expected to cut inside and support Dembele. Good luck with that - Deila tried it in his first few months at Celtic Park, and it didn't work. Celtic can certainly count on their outstanding full-backs to provide plenty of width, but using Griffiths and another central player (Ryan Christie or Patrick Roberts seem likely candidates) as the 'wide' players in an attacking trident behind Dembele runs the risk of just creating huge volumes of traffic in the middle of the pitch. A natural wide player who is more effective than either Gary Mackay-Steven or James Forrest would go a long way.
It'll be interesting to see who Rodgers picks in central defence and central midfield as well. Ideally his first choice centre backs will be Erik Sviatchenko and Jozo Simunovic, but the latter is injured so often that it's unclear if he's anywhere near as good as his seven figure price tag suggested. Sviatchenko is a great player though, but even he can't compensate for the screw-ups that Efe Ambrose and occasionally Dedryck Boyata come up with. Kolo Toure showed no signs at Liverpool last season that he is slowing down, but the Ivorian is 35 and no more than a stopgap.
And arguably the biggest problem is in the middle of the pitch, unless Scott Brown proves me wrong and gets back to his lung-busting best. But the evidence of the last twelve months is that the Scotland captain is slowing down. If his future is indeed to be spent screening the back four, then a replacement for him is needed, and there's no need for both Brown and Nir Bitton in the team. The Israeli is brilliant at his best but too often languid; I was surprised the club rejected a £6million bid for him this summer. As for an 'engine', this is surely a role for Stuart Armstrong, after months being wasted in wide areas by Deila.
The only sure thing in that area of the pitch is Tom Rogic, who shone last year either in a deeper role or playing closer to the attack. Playing him behind the striker would mean leaving Kris Commons and Stefan Johansen out, but it's debatable whether either have a future under Rodgers anyway. Rogic has only started one of the first four European games though, with the Callum McGregor keeping him out. It's hard to see the manager's logic on that one.
So lots of quandaries for the new Celtic boss. He's in a bit of a Catch 22; he might not be able to recruit as he'd like unless they qualify for the Champions League, but they might not qualify for the Champions League unless he gets in those players now. And the squad is bloated enough as it is; surely there's a good chance that Ambrose, Commons, Darnell Fisher and Nadir Ciftci, amongst others, won't be here by the end of August.
Still, at domestic level, surely everything's okay. Rodgers is a much better coach than Deila, and the opposition is unlikely to be significantly stronger than last season. Sure, Rangers are back, and sure, they've made a few decent signings, and sure, they proved in the Scottish Cup semi-final that they have the attitude, intensity and quality to match Celtic at least in one-off games. But their current resources are still dwarfed by what's available down Parkhead way. Anything other than six in a row would be unacceptable, but it's pretty much a cert...right?
THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1995 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Logan Bailly, Leonardo Fasan, Craig Gordon
Defenders: Efe Ambrose, Dedryck Boyata, Darnell Fisher, Emilio Izaguirre, Saidy Janko, Mikael Lustig, Eoghan O'Connell, Tony Ralston, Jozo Simunovic, Erik Sviatchenko, Kieran Tierney, Kolo Toure
Midfielders: Kristoffer Ajer, Stuart Armstrong, Nir Bitton, Scott Brown, Kris Commons, Liam Henderson, Stefan Johansen, Gary Mackay-Steven, Callum McGregor, Aidan Nesbitt, Tom Rogic
Forwards: Jack Aitchison, Ryan Christie, Nadir Ciftci, PJ Crossan, Moussa Dembele, James Forrest, Leigh Griffiths, Patrick Roberts
THE BEST XI?
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.