We’re in the draw for the next round of the League Cup and it’s Motherwell away. There’s always that anxious wait to see if we get Rangers.
Celtic hit the bar twice in quick succession. A Welsh header from a corner and David Turnbull’s free-kick hitting the defensive wall and then the bar.
But we also scored two goals in the first half. An early scare with Ross County almost scoring in sixty seconds from a ball knocked on from a shy.
Calum McGregor got our opener. He’d held his hands up to show he was unmarked from a corner. Turnbull picked him out. His shot was deflected but went in. Twenty-one minutes gone. A changed Celtic team with Liel Abada and McGregor the only players to remain in the team that beat Dundee United on Sunday. Abada patrolled his usual right-wing beat, but McGregor played a more advanced role, with Aaron Mooy dropping deeper and taking the ball from defence.
Giorgos Giakoumakis missed Sunday’s game. He’d a point to prove, and he usually does, coming up with a goal. He’d a bit of a tussle with Alex Iacovitti and took a few knocks going down injured after a poor first touch. But he got his goal near the half hour mark. Tony Ralston was the provider. A lovely touch on the edge of the box (the full back was in the striker’s position) and he laid it off. Giakoumakis dipped his shoulder and took the ball into his right foot and curled it into the bottom corner. Like the United match, it looked like game over. The Greek striker hobbled through the remainder of the half. He was unlucky with three headers, the last one on the brink of half-time. Three goals for him the season. He’s always looking for more.
Ross County had more of the ball in the second half, but Celtic still dominated. The goal the Staggies scored in sixty-seven minutes was a shocker for the Celtic defence. A long punt from the keeper, Eastman, into the Celtic box. Substitute, Carl Startfelt came on for Welsh, who went off injured. The Swedish International was too easily beaten in the air by Jordan White. Iacovitti took time off from fouling Giakoumakis to wander into the six-yard box and stoop down to header it into the goal. Moritz Jenz was nowhere.
Daizen Maeda restored the two-goal lead five minutes later. McGregor had a shot from the eighteen-yard line spilled by the keeper. Maeda was there to pounce.
Sead Haksabanovic came on for Maeda. His first dribble, he ghosts past Johnstone, his touch and cross of the ball nearly gave us another goal. Even in the short time on the park he looks a class addition.
Just on full time, James Forrest nicked a fourth. Ralston made it (two assist and McGregor having one) with a cutback to Forrest in the box. He too looks sharp.
The worry for Celtic is we still get bullied by big centre forwards. But this is less of a worry in Scottish football because we have more of the ball. In Europe, teams don’t go back to front. Transitions and losing the ball at the back and midfield is the big worry. But out team, our squad is lighting fast.
Team that will play against Rangers: (my guess). No real shocks. Hart, Taylor, Juranovic, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Hatate, McGregor, O’Riley, Jota, Kyogo, Maeda.
I’m no fan of Startfelt. Jenz has strolled through a few games, but I think Postecoglou prefers Starfelt (what do I know?) Similarly, Reo Hatate edges out Turnbull. The Japanese player is quite simply wonderful and looks to have extra time on the ball, which can be a problem when he loses it. Kygo is on fire. He’ll start ahead of Giakoumakis (that is no longer a debate). Liel Abada scored a hat-trick at Tannadice. He’s made a good case for starting, but Maeda’s closing down work and his pace means he’ll start ahead of the young Israeli. Postocoglou has taken Maeda wherever he goes and obviously rates him highly. Jota, certain started and ace in the pack. Forrest is down the pecking order. Hasbanovic—we’ll wait and see. I guess he could be another cracker. Celtic to win 4—1 against our Glasgow rivals. HH.
As the song goes, Celtic, Celtic, that’s the team for me. I’ve no great interest in what other teams do or who they play or sign—apart from Rangers.
Even if it’s tiddlywinks, I want Rangers to lose. They’d won the league by 25 points, and stopped us winning the ten. One of the highlights of the season was watching Ryan Kent miss a sitter in the closing minutes and Aaron Ramsey missing that penalty. I joked that my pal’s dad had died, but at least he’d lived long enough to see that. It was a season when Rangers’ fans felt they did well reaching a European final and winning the Scottish Cup.
But when they were giving out awards it was Ange Postecoglou picking them up. Hard to believe, we were chasing Eddie Howe as our new manager and it just seemed a matter of getting the deal over the line. He walked away, citing concerns about having concerns. Ange Postecolgou came in. I’d never heard of him. Most of us agreed he’d need time to rebuild. He didn’t cite concerns about not having his own backroom staff. He was willing to work with the dross that was there. We’d give him time. I was even uttering strange things like he’d have at least a season, or maybe two, in which he wouldn’t be expected to do much, and spluttering into my pint that Rangers were still shite. I was hoping somehow we’d turn it around. In our pre-season games there was little evidence that would be the case. In the qualifiers for Europe, and in Europe, generally, we were out of our depth against mediocre teams (like us).
We lost to Hearts at Tynecastle, Kyogo came on as a sub, played wide, but did nothing of note in the few minutes on the pitch (shades of Henrik Larrson coming on as a winger against Hibs). We were chasing Rangers in the league. It was a race I didn’t expect to win. But the equivalent of muscles-memory of the mind sets in. Odsonne Edouard left for Crystal Palace. I was glad about that. Ryan Christie to Bournemouth. Kristoffer Ayer went to Brentford, where he’d be reduced to talking a good game. He was fine when he didn’t have to defend.
Now here we are again. I’m far more optimistic. We’ve signed seven new players, which include mainstays, Jota and Carter-Vickers. The Portuguese winger dazzled last season and this pre-season. Carter-Vickers in pre-season hasn’t looked great. He got bullied for the second goal against Legia Warsaw, for example, losing a bread-and-butter header I’d expect any centre-half to win and getting turned far too easily. That’s nit-picking. He too has been a success. But you’re only as good as your last game is a truism.
Joe Hart has been a great signing. He’s made vital saves. He’s our number 1, keeper. But we know he’s going to lose stupid goals, when he’s trying to play sweeper-keeper. It’s just a matter of how many and against whom. Teemu Pukki almost caught him out in the friendly match against Norwich. The ex-Celt is not the quickest, and not the best, as we all know. Hart might beat him in a footrace, but I’d rather not find out during a match. Joe Hart, vice-captain, Certain starter.
Benjamin Siegrist, of what I remember him, was decent for Dundee United. He’ll push for the number-one spot. Uncertain starter.
Greg Taylor started against Norwich. I wasn’t a fan of the former Kilmarnock full back. But over last season I’ve come to appreciate him. He wasn’t Kieran Tierney. Emilio Izaguirre when he first came into the team was also a revelation. Taylor is not at that level. And now he has serious competition. *Certain starter when season begins.
Josip Juranović will not be going over to play on the left as he did at Ibrox because Ange doesn’t trust the likes of Liam Scales, for example, to do a job. The Croatian has established himself as our first-pick right back. Certain starter.
Scottish international, Anthony Ralston—and I never thought I’d say that without laughing—is backup. But he too will be pushing for a starting spot. Uncertain starter.
Argentinian, Alexandro Bernabei, I think looks to have more attacking flair than Greg Taylor. *Certain starter as season progresses.
Celtic supposedly paid around £6 million to Tottenham for Cameron Carter-Vickers. A snip based on last season’s performances (and not this pre-season). Certain starter, under Ange.
I heard Carl Starfelt was injured while on international duty with Sweden. He’d miss the start of the season. I wasn’t bothered. Like Ajer, Starfelt is decent when he doesn’t have to defend. He’s too easily bullied by muscular forwards. Most of the goals we lost last season came from free kicks and corners. The most common argument I’ve heard is we’d the best defensive record in the league. We also won the league. Therefore Starfelt must be better than mediocre. He isn’t. But he’s good enough for now. But Ange trusts him. Certain starter.
Christopher Jullien is still at Celtic. For how much longer? He picked up the captain’s armband in the pre-season friendlies. But he’s an uncertain starter. If any club fancies him, he’s free to go.
Back-up to Carter-Vickers and Starfelt has been, until now, under-twenty-one Scotland captain, Stephen Welsh. He’s no better than Starfelt, and often worse. Uncertain starter.
Moritz Jenz from Lorient is we hope better than Starfelt and will leapfrog Stephen Welsh into the team. Loan deals like Jota and Carter-Vickers gives us a chance to try before we buy. Uncertain starter, for now, but his time will come. And if he’s good enough, we’ll keep him. Win-win. Uncertain starter, for now.
Callum McGregor, the Celtic captain, and Scottish Player of the Year plays most games. Simple. Never stops. Certain starter.
Reo Hatate came into the team and started with a bang. Goals against Rangers are often a great way to introduce yourself to adoring fans. He didn’t disappoint. But the end of the season he was disappointing. He was never rubbish, but didn’t shine. Pre-season he’s looked at back to the level he was when we hammered Rangers 3—0, and that old joke, they were lucky to get the nil. This was the pivotal moment in the season, when we leapfrogged them in the league. We did it in Celtic style. Hatate was the man. Certain starter.
Matt O’Riley played in that number-ten role when Tom Rogic didn’t. Usually, they switched like doppelgangers, with one getting sixty minutes, the other thirty minutes, or thereabout. A terrific acquisition. He has added goals to his game. Certain starter.
David Turnbull played every game for Celtic under Ange, until he got that injury, just before the League Cup final, which Kyogo won for us. Turnbull has had a good pre-season, scoring two goals. Sharp and strong. Goal scorer. Ready to step in and stake a place. Uncertain starter, for now.
Daizen Maeda starts most games under Ange. He’s played at centre-forward, most recently when Kyogo was taken off against Legia Warsaw and Giorgos Giakoumakis wasn’t available for selection. But Ange prefers to play him on the wing. Usually it’s the left wing. His pace troubles defences, but his closing down work is also a stand out. He scores goals. Certain starter.
Jota has a problem when Maeda starts on the left, because he’s pushed to the right wing. Maeda is all pace. Jota is an old-fashioned winger. He ties defenders in knots and scores for fun. It was a long and protracted deal with Benfica, with shades of the Eddie Howe haunting us. Bargain buy at £6 million. Certain starter, on right or left wing.
Kyogo Furuhashi hit the ground running. Apart from his injury, he’s not stopped running since. His speed of thought and movement would give any defence problems. The first and best of the Japanese internationals to arrive. Certain starter.
Giorgos Giakoumakis was the opposite of Kyogo. He hit the ground not running. Then he took the ball off Juranovic (I think it was against Aberdeen) in the last minute and missed a penalty which cost us two points. Without actually being Albian Ajeti (or Pukki), he’d all the makings of a dud. But he scored twenty league goals. When Kyogo was out, we didn’t miss him. The Greek international did the business. Uncertain starter, for now.
Under Neil Lennon’s tutelage James Forrest could do no wrong. He was brought through the ranks. Made his debut in season 2009-10. He was hitting twenty goals a season and has more Celtic medals than anyone at the club and has now signed a new contract. It’s hard to believe he’s not fifty-five. But for the first time in his Celtic career he’s not an automatic pick. Jota is ahead of him. Arguably, Liel Abada is also ahead of him. Uncertain starter.
Liel Abada scored a stack of goals and assists. Let’s for a minute consider the way he sneaked in behind the Rangers’ backline and scored at Paradise. Even now, it brings a smile. He’s ahead of Forrest, but not Jotta or Maeda. He will get game time, most often as a substitute. Uncertain starter.
Aaron Mooy plays for Australia. Ange knows him and brought him in. Whether he is to replace Tom Rogic or to sit in as a defensive midfielder for Callum McGregor is unclear. Maybe a bit of both? I’ve not seen him play. Uncertain starter.
Yosuke Ideguchi (Guchi) the Japanese internationalist picked up an injury early in his Celtic career. He’s not been able to find a spot in the congested Celtic midfield. A very decent showing in our pre-season friendlies. Uncertain starter.
James McCarthy was said to have struggled in training when he arrived. Might be lies. He has struggled to get into the Celtic team. Not sure he adds much. But that might change, as it did with Giakoumakis. He’s been brought on very late in pre-season games, usually to replace McGregor. Uncertain starter.
Mikey Johnston, remember him? Tricky winger, could go outside, could go inside? Scored goals? Had that wow factor? Looked rotten in pre-season matches. He’s still got an outside chance, but he’s fading fast.
Scott Bain. Backup keeper, for the backup keeper. Ball boy. Uncertain starter.
We’ve got enough to win the league. Games against Rangers will decide the title. They bullied us in two games last year, both of which we lost, one, admittedly, in extra-time. We can’t let that happen again. The real beauty of winning the title is no qualifiers for the Champions League. £40 million in the bank. We’ll play some fantastic teams. We’ll take some terrible doings, but it’s not that I don’t care, the glory is being there and we’ll get better. We won’t win the Champions League and we won’t win the treble. But I’ve been wrong before. I didn’t imagine winning the league this time, last season. Eddie Who?