Celtic 3—0 Aberdeen.

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I predicted 4—1 to Celtic before kick-off. My predictions usually hit the bar and go out for a corner, so no great surprise there. The bookies were laughing, yet again.  Celtic’s hundredth-trophy win, fling in the Scottish Premier League that’s one-hundred and one and if it’s as easy as this then it won’t be long until the Scottish Champions hit two-hundred. Aberdeen got a boost before the game with the omission of Scott Sinclair who has went through most teams in Scotland like an anthrax virus. My mate Rab Wylie gave us a shock when he claimed to know the Celtic team in advance but could list only five players. That might have given Aberdeen a chance, but two of them were Tom Rogic who scored a classic and James Forest, who scored another and his darting run into the box got Celtic a second-half penalty, scored from the spot by Moussa Dembele. The Don’s game plan is familiar to anyone that knows how to string ten men behind the ball (aka Walter Smith) and hope for a breakaway win. Here Aberdeen were pedestrian and Celtic strolled to victory.   In a one off match such as a Scottish Cup tie the diddy teams have a chance, but if Celtic keep strengthening and hang onto the best players – we’ll get one more year out of Dembele before a thirty-million offer and he’s not bye, bye, but sell, sell- then the laws of diminishing returns kicks in. A new era under Brendan Rodgers is underway. In three or four years he’ll be off too, but a perfect day and a perfect start.

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Celtic 0—Barcelona 2.

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Lionel Messi was meant to be a sick note, not a seen it, done it message– he only scored two goals in just over ninety minutes here, one a penalty, which doesn’t really count. His first came from another tax dodger currently under investigation by the Spanish authorities (why can’t we do that here?) Up until that point Andy Rat and me had been celebrating each ten minute spell that passed without Barca scoring, me with a pint. Andy with a coke. After all they did beat us 7—0 last time we played. That’s called lulling them into a false sense that we’re shite.  We’d almost hit the 25 minute mark. Celtic had started quite well, by that I mean they sometimes got a hit of the ball, without creating anything. Messi had a couple of half chances he usually scores from, one in particular which he miscontrolled, near the Celtic six-yard box. That was a let off.  But Neymar, from the edge of the Celtic box delicately chipped a ball over static defenders and the other tax dodger whipped it, first time, into the bottom of the net. Craig Gordon, who was Celtic’s best player and later pulled off a stunning save from Suarez, had no chance. Not even I would have saved it.

We all know the rules for these types of games. i) the diddy team’s keeper must be outstanding. Tick there. ii) the other team must be under-par, in other words, play pish. Well, the triumvirate of Messi, Neymar and Messi is as good as it gets, but any midfield without Iniesta is lacking. And when Barcelona where are that very best Xavi and tick and tack was such a beautiful thing to behold that you couldn’t grudge them victory after victory and the great clean sweeps of history. Nobody could stop them. In fact, few teams could get the ball.

Initially, here, Celtic were successful in getting the ball back, pushing high up the pitch and winning throw ins and even corners. Mascherano looking particularly vulnerable to Dembele’s muscularity and skill.  iii) the diddy team must score first and defend to the last.  Celtic went in at half time a goal down. Lustig was being got at on one side of the pitch by Neymar and Jordi Alba and on the other side Messi was prowling, with Iziguerre often in the same time zone. I like Emilio, he’s a great replacement for Tierney, and Scottish football is a bit of breeze, but, like Barca, his best years are behind him (although he’s not that old) and he is liable to get caught. By that time Sinclair was off. That’s a big blow because he’s got pace and, most importantly of all, goals, the top scorer in Scottish football, behind Dembele. And it’s a blow for the league cup final, when Celtic need to play like Barca and Aberdeen not play like Celtic and give away the second goal. Game over.

But we had the dog’s chance. James Forest came on, and played well, and I don’t often say that, and as this level that’s a real compliment. McGregor, for example, was a null and void bet. Rogic missing in action. And Armstrong although he showed great running skills couldn’t pass the pall in a tenement close mouth – he was rubbish. Only Scott Brown could hold his head up and that’s something he rarely does. Forest skinned a few players, flung a cross into the box. Dembele had one of Celtic’s few chances before half time, which he largely created himself and was unlucky, but which produced a great save from Ter Stegen. It wasn’t actually a great save. It was the kind of average save an under-sixteen keeper would have made spectacular, but we lived in hope. Dembele’s big chance replayed again and again until he scores. (iv) Diddy teams must take their big chance. Forest’s ball curved onto Dembele’s napper. Five yards out. Got to score. Doesn’t.

Minutes later Izaguerre caught out by Suarez in the box, no surprise there, you might say, the attacker falling holding onto the defender’s hand so that it looks like a penalty. It was a penalty and Messi scored. Game over. Twenty minutes to go, enough time for Neymar to get petulant and not this time with the tax authorities, but with Lustig and the ref. Barca coaches played safe and took him off. They could have taken off another six or seven (v) Diddy team always loses.

So here Celtic are, the league won, the league cup on Sunday and only the Scottish cup final in May to look forward to. Then, two weeks later, it’s back to the biggest games of the season, the qualifiers for this competition, because not only is it the best it brings out the best. Celtic sit bottom of the group. Barcelona top. Manchester City, who are next up – and I look forward to that game – second. Borussia into the Europa league, where realistically we’d hoped to be. We finished exactly were pundits predicted we would finish, but so what? It’s been brilliant. Loved every minute and we’ve still got ninety to go. The old Scottish champions playing the would-be English champions. Bring it on. Let’s hope the above rules run true and we hit a run of i-v and the other mob don’t score, because we’re the Barca of Scotland, to be shot at and brought down low.  God bless the Celts.

Rangers 0—1 Celtic.

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Those with long memories can remember a certain Ranger’s goalie being virtually unbeatable, Celtic doing everything but score and Brian Laudrup galloping up the park and winning it for Rangers. Matt Gilks played a great impression of Andy Goram, but there was no great Dane to run away with it for the underdogs. Leigh Griffiths, in 87 minutes, set up the other best striker in Scottish football, Moussa Dembele whose sublime touch won the game for Celtic. The referee played his part (costing me £66 as my bet for first goalscorer was declared void) as Erik Sviatchenko’s header into the bottom of the net is disallowed, prompting bygone talks of Masonic conspiracy, but let’s be charitable and say the referee was  as knackered as Tom Rogic gets after half-an-hour of football, and the man in black spent more of the game following play and running into the Ranger’s box than any of the thin blue line. There was no 5—1 score line here, but on chances missed it certainly should have been. Gilks presenting Rogic with a miskicked pass in the six-yard box was the pick of the bunch. Sinclair’s free kick against the bar another standout. Matt Gilks was Ranger’s man of the match, in fact, he was man of the match overall, slightly ahead on points of Celtic’s captain, Scott Brown. If it were a boxing match it would have been stopped long before the end.

But Gilks must have taken a head knock, in his after-match interview he talked of Rangers being the better team. The coaching staff better get that looked at. Mark Warbuton, the Ranger’s manager must have headed every ball as well, because he seemed slightly concussed, gibbering that the gap between his team and Celtic has shortened. I’d check his eyesight too. The best rejoinder I heard was that was because Celtic had now lapped them.

Aberdeen in the league cup final. It will be a closer game than this one, because we know they’ll do, what they always do, go Walter Smith, sit in, and try and score on the breakaway. They’ve done it before. But they’d need their keeper to play like Gilks. A referee to disallow a couple of goals. Breakway and go up the park and score. In fact they need Brian Laudrup. And while they’re there might as well bring his brother Michael along. Look forward to the first trophy of the season.

The Old Firm Game, League Cup Semi-final, Hampden Park, tomorrow.

liam henderson

I stood up and cheered when we got drawn with Rangers in the League Cup. We’ve not played them for three years. We want to rub their noses in it. We’ve missed it (but only if we win). Chris Sutton is getting some stick for saying what many Rangers’ fans believe: Celtic could win playing with their men blindfolded. That’s true. We’ve got the best young players in Scotland. And in Liam Henderson we have the most exciting talent since Ian Durrant (prior to getting smashed by Neil Simpson).  Henderson, like Durrant, has no fear. He’s gangly, his first touch is good, he likes to go forwards, rather than backwards and he can score goals. I think Celtic’s youth team is better than and could beat the current Rangers’ first team. They might even triumph over the Celtic first team. What I’m saying is the bookies are giving odds of a minimum of 8/1 for Rangers to beat Celtic. That sounds about right. Celtic have better players in every single position. Even in the old days when asked to pick what Rangers’ player I’d want in the Celtic team I used to ruefully admit I’d take their goalie. Now even our goalie is better than the Rangers’ keeper. And here’s a strange thing. I don’t even know who that is. Go back three or four years and not only would I be able to tell you who would start for Celtic and who would be a sub, I could also pick the Rangers’ team man for man. Now I can hazard a guess that Kenny Miller will play. Kenny Black. Nicky Ball. That’s about it. The rest is a blank where Rangers’ bank balance used to be.

Rangers’ fans will clutch at straws. They’ll point to Chelsea’s recent defeat. Manchester City’s defeat. Tottenham’s defeat. I’ll fling in Bayern Munich’s more recent 4-1 away defeat at Wolfsburg. It wouldn’t surprise me if any of these underdogs defeated Celtic. We are not a great team, but we are a better team than Rangers.

There are certain advantages at playing at Hampden. It’s a big playing surface. That suits Celtic. Rangers will want to sit in and frustrate. They’ll look at Ross County’s recent credible 0-0 draw at Parkhead, a game in which the underdog could have and perhaps should have won the match with a clear-cut chance in the last few minutes. That’s what Rangers will be hoping for, a Ross County with that chance going in and cup glory. Everything else becomes bullshit and they get the bragging rights.

There is another, perhaps, more likely scenario. Rangers score first. After today’s New Firm semi-final between Dundee United (managed by ex-Celt, McNamarra) and Aberdeen (managed by ex-Hun, McInnes) the pitch will be scarred. Celtic’s silky soccer will be disrupted. Rangers will want to outmuscle the Celtic players and knock them off their stride. The problem with that is physically if you look at both teams, Celtic are the taller and a stronger looking proposition.  Virgil van Dijk is the best defender and header of the ball in Scottish football. He looks like scoring at every free kick and corner and frequently does. Rangers will find that hard to counter.

For Rangers to win they must play like Ross County and get lucky. For Celtic to win they must play like the champions they are. It’s not cut and dried but if you only had enough money to back either team to get your bus fare home, or walk forty miles, who would you back? Celtic to win and meet Dundee United in the final.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole