Wednesday, August 1, 2018
2018/19 Premiership preview - Celtic
PREDICTED LEAGUE POSITION: FIRST
LAST SEASON: First, 82pts
NOTABLE INS: Scott Bain (Dundee, loan made permanent), Odsonne Edouard (Paris St. Germain, loan made permanent)
NOTABLE OUTS: Stuart Armstrong (Southampton), Nadir Ciftci (Genclerbirligi), Jamie Lindsay (Ross County, loan made permanent), Jamie McCart (Inverness Caledonian Thistle), Erik Sviatchenko (Midtjylland, loan made permanent), Joe Thomson (Dunfermline Athletic), Charly Musonda (Chelsea, end of loan), Patrick Roberts (Manchester City, end of loan)
LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): Gordon, Lustig, Simunovic, Ajer, Tierney, Forrest, Ntcham, Brown, McGregor, Rogic, Dembele
I know I say this every year, but I'm going to say it again anyway. Writing a season preview for Celtic is really, really hard.
The problem is that, it is difficult to suggest a single player at another Premiership club who would improve Celtic's starting lineup. When one club has the best eleven players in the country - and most of the next eleven too - you can't really compare them to the other clubs in the league.
Therefore any discussion of strengths and weaknesses only really refers to their challenge on the continent. And after two domestic trebles in a row, the only duck Brendan Rodgers has left to knock down is progress in the Champions League.
And that's hardly a given. Next up are AEK Athens, then they have to beat another opponent of a similar standard to that. That's actually quite tough. But failure would put a bit of a dark cloud over the season before it has even started.
That's because such is their dominance at home that anything other than yet another treble would be considered a disappointment. Is that fair? It is, if nothing else, the consequence of having a wage bill more than double that of any other Scottish clubs, and of the unprecedented success Rodgers has brought.
That's not to say there aren't grounds for improvement. It was always going to be a very long shot to repeat the 2016/17 invincible season, but they did drop points in more than a third of their league games last season. The gap between them and Aberdeen in second fell from thirty points to just nine. That's not to say there was a title race at any point, but given goal difference fell from +81 to +48 they certainly weren't overwhelming opponents in quite the same way.
There has been very little transfer activity so far, with the only new signings being permanent deals for Odsonne Edouard and Scott Bain after successful loan spells. And whilst Stuart Armstrong and Erik Sviatchenko have left, there's still a fair bit of dead wood to clear. Meanwhile, expect the English Premier League transfer window closure on August 9th to be a catalyst for some purchases of players from down south, especially if Champions League football can be offered as a carrot.
The obvious area for improvement is central defence. Kristoffer Ajer has the potential to go far, but it must be remembered that he is only 20. For all his good performances at the World Cup, Dedryck Boyata has been too unreliable, while Jozo Simunovic was erratic last year and Mikael Lustig, often deployed as a centre-back who shuffles out to cover the right side, is clearly past his best. Celtic's weaknesses in the heart of the backline have been exposed too frequently against elite continental opponents and this area simply has to be tightened if they are to have the slightest chance of making the knockout stages.
Elsewhere, the situation is more rosy. Up front, you're doing all right if Leigh Griffiths is your third-choice striker, though there's increasing fear that Moussa Dembele's hamstrings are becoming a chronic issue. Thankfully Edouard has stepped up to the plate and that £9million transfer fee currently looks like a decent bit of business.
Olivier Ntcham's ability to dominate games from midfield made Armstrong superfluous, and the intelligence of Callum McGregor and Tom Rogic causes problems for any defence. And don't forget the dramatic progress of James Forrest as a wingback-cum-winger who at last has started delivering a good end product regularly. Ideally Scott Sinclair would return to his form of the year before last so that there's as big a threat on the opposite side, but Celtic did fine with Kieran Tierney rampaging up and down the left which allowed another midfielder such as McGregor to tuck in.
Oh, and then there's Scott Brown. The captain showed no signs of slowing down last year, which is just as well as he played fifty-six games for the club, more than any other player. Given he turned 33 in June there will surely be a need to start giving him a bit more of a break. The trouble is that there is no obvious like-for-like replacement. Nir Bitton does the defensive stuff well but that's about it, and seems out of favour. Eboue Kouassi has done nothing yet to justify a £3million transfer fee or the work permit he got for supposedly being an exceptional talent. If the skipper was to get injured, then Celtic might have a real problem even against domestic opposition.
But as I've said, May will bring eight-in-a-row.
THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1997 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Scott Bain, Dorus De Vries, Craig Gordon
Defenders: Kristoffer Ajer, Dedryck Boyata, Marvin Compper, Cristian Gamboa, Jack Hendry, Mikael Lustig, Calvin Miller, Anthony Ralston, Jozo Simunovic, Kieran Tierney
Midfielders: Scott Allan, Kundai Benyu, Nir Bitton, Scott Brown, Jonny Hayes, Ewan Henderson, Eboue Kouassi, Callum McGregor, Lewis Morgan, Olivier Ntcham, Tom Rogic, Scott Sinclair
Forwards: Jack Aitchison, Ryan Christie, PJ Crossan, Moussa Dembele, Odsonne Edouard, James Forrest, Leigh Griffiths, Michael Johnston
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.