28 wins out of 30. Jota scores a controversial half-time penalty with the last kick of the ball. Alexandro Bernabei scored a 92nd minute wonder goal to kill Ross County’s chance of getting anything from the game. We got the job done. One game closer to the title. But it wasn’t great.
Reo Hatate and Aaron Mooy are out. Both have been brilliant for very little money, and a free transfer. A nothing buy, he’s been keeping O’Riley out of the team on merit. Postecoglou tells us he was trying to bring in the Brighton winger, Mitoma, but was beaten to the punch. I expect Reo Hatate and Aaron Mooy to be back when we play Rangers. Not that I know any more than you, but both have been top class in every sense of the word, with goals and assists. Another Japanese signing—and Japanese player of the year—gets his start in Dingwall. Tomoki Iwata has shown in cameos, how good he can be. Neither Hatate or Mooy will be risked if they’re not a hundred percent fit and ready for the game at Parkhead. We know that’s how Posecoglou works. A chance for Iwata to impress. He was no more than average as was O’Riley.
Our top goalscorer, Kyogo, was unlucky not to score in less than a minute, which would have gave us the kind of victory we expected. He’d another turn and hit which wrong footed half the stadium and went the wrong side of the post. Jota set him up for what looked like a sitter, but he put that past the post too.
But Celtic’s best attacking threat came from Greg Taylor. He’d a quick one-two of attempts—his second had Ross Laidlaw beaten, but cracked off the far post and juncture of the bar.
Ross County’s tactics were to go long and hope for a corner of free kick into the Celtic box would fall for their players. It didn’t. Carl Starfelt made a second-half mispass and a ball fell inside the box for a shot, not on goal, was one of the home team’s closest and only chances. But a goal down and Celtic uncharacteristically slack, they were in the game until the young Argentinian’s strike.
There are lots to like about Bernabei. Great on the ball, full of energy. He’s good going forward, but takes risks at the back. From a Celtic corner, for example, he lost the ball on the half-way line. Better teams might punish us. Greg Taylor might have taken a knee knock too far and have to sit Saturday’s tie. So we’ll need to defend better. As we know Rangers and must other teams launch it to the left, where we are smaller, defensively.
Oh, came on in the last twenty minutes, for Kyogo, and immediately made an impression. His first and second touches (like his last games) were saved the by keeper. A collector’s item, a long punt from Joe Hart. Oh holding and turning the central defender in one movement. He was in on goal but delayed and shot past the post. Oh is a real player. And gives a different dimension to our play. He’ll definitely come on Saturday. By that time I hope we’re three up.
Sead Haksabanovic, on for Maeda, usually scores, but not today. He did have a good chance, setting himself up, but shooting way over. Neither wingers were convincing.
Jota, who set him up, also cut inside and cracked one against the bar. Substitute Turnball also put one past the post. Vata, on with six minutes of added time already gone, slid in at the back post and just missed out on scoring from a Bernabei pass with his first touch. But it was already job done. Hatate and Mooy just give you more. Expect them to start on Saturday. We’re firm favourites, but will need to play a lot better than this. I expect we will. As always, we need the rub of the green. Poor penalty decision today. VAR in the dock, again. Three massive games against Rangers decide whether it’s double or treble.
As usual I was drunk by halftime, blootered by fulltime. We debated who would start, before I fell off the chair. Hatate would go back into midfield where he is more effective. Of course, he was lauded as a great right back—he’s a great player—but he just can’t defend. A bit like Josip Juranovic when he came on at left back after 21 minutes. Greg Taylor had started well. He usually does. I used to slate him, the same way I did Starfelt and Forrest. The latter was a surprise starter. Any more performances like this and it will be a surprise he gets a start.
Alistair Johnson slotted in at right back and looked assured. But then when he looked up to pick a pass, he’d Forrest in front of him and brought the ball back. More punters backed Celtic to win than the fat Columbian to lose some weight. Morelos played a great pass to Daizen Maeda. The Japanese forward zipped through the Rangers’ backline and scored like a World Cup hero. A goal up inside five minutes.
For much of the first half Celtic played football. Rangers reverted to long-ball, kick and rush tactics that had worked in the past. With Starfelt in the Celtic team, they’ve always got a chance. Most of the goals we lose come from free-kicks and corners. Rangers in the first-half, despite being unable to play three concurrent passes had three chances.
Joe Hart was culpable. He dithered on the ball. The fat man blocked his clearance with the ball coming off the post before being scrambled away. Then the fat Columbian had benefited from poor marking, Starfelt and then Juranovic found wanting, as he headed two great chances over the bar from just outside the six-yard box. The fat Columbian also found time to heckle Greg Taylor before he went off injured. Perhaps he was just saying, I hope Postecoglou brings on Juranovic, who had a shocker, and not Bernabei. The little Argentinian has actually played at left back. He’s very impressive going forward, but has that usual Celtic foible of being unable to defend.
Half-time, we were one up. Just after half-time, it was 1—1. Juranovic was found wanting. The ball was shuttled to the left and Ryan Kent bent it into the top corner in the way Jota used to.
The Rangers penalty followed a few minutes later. Starfelt dived in on Fashion Sakala. Pundit, and paid Celtic hater, Kris Boyd, said he wasn’t sure if it was a penalty. Sakala seemed to be standing on Starfelt’s trailing leg. He had pulled out of the tackle. James Tavenier dispatched the penalty like a player that gets practice taking them every match day.
The Celtic non-penalty. Call it soft. Call it what you like. 99% of pundits called it as a penalty including Kris Boyd. The VAR referee had a look. Match referee, decided not to have a look at Connor Goldson’s handball in the box.
Postecoglou made his usual changes to the team. Forrest coming off for Liel Abada was a no-brainer. As always, Maeda could be pleased with his work rate. He’d went past Tavenier a few times in the first half. One ball in particular was just crying to get stuck away, but with no takers as Celtic’s first-half dominance wasn’t converted into goals. Jota added guile.
Giakoumakis for O’Riley gave us a big front man. O’Riley is a class player, but he went missing for large chunks of this game. Not good enough.
Hatate for Mooy, was one good player, replacing another. Mooy’s two goals and man-of- the match performance against Hibs was not enough to get him a start. Mooy and Jota helped create the equaliser.
Mooy found Giakoumakis inside the Rangers’ box. His flick coming off Scott Wright. Kyogo, who was largely anonymous, popped up to score the equaliser in 87 minutes. That sobered up the Ibrox horde. We remain nine points clear with eighteen games to play.
Pass marks for Carter-Vickers, Johnson, McGregor, Hatate and Maeda.
Found wanting, Hart, O’Reily and Kyogo (despite his goal, which kind of excuses him).
Shockers, Starfelt, Juranovic, Forrest.
A kick in the balls for Bernabei. Here’s hoping Kobyashi comes into the team and Startfelt drops out. Jenz not even on the bench. The beauty of a loan deal is it’s a try before you buy. I don’t think we’ll be buying him. Sead Haksabanvonic is a class player that missed out on the derby. He’ll come back into the team, sooner, rather than later.
Josip Juranovic is the last man standing in the World Cup. Paper talk tells us he won’t be at Paradise and will be sold in the January window. I’m not particularly worried. He’s a good enough player, but not irreplaceable, he’s not a Henrik Larsson. We know about Tony Ralston. Alistair Johnston from CF Montreal has come in as cover. He’s been called the spit of Danny McGrain. I wish. Danny was the best. He was like Ginger Rodgers, he could do everything Fred Astaire could do (Sandy Jardine) but do it backwards and both sides of the park.
We’re well served all over the park having a two-for-one deal on every position. And I understand Juranovic is under contract until 2026. The club hold the aces here.
Giorgos Giakoumakis is under a similar contract. The Greek striker has scored a goal-a-game. We know what he can do. Lots of the time I’d have played him in front of Kyogo. Postecoglou favours the Japanese striker. His judgement has been great. Postecoglou’s witticism that ‘he was more interested in what was for dinner’ that night than the appointment of a manager of the other Glasgow club was laidback and honest, with a bit of dig.
I’m sure they’ll win more games. There may be a bit of a bounce, but hopefully not. I don’t want them to win anything soon or later. Differences between the two managers isn’t just in terms of experience. Postecoglou came to the club with a to-do list and a fair idea of the players he wanted to help him and Celtic recover from the debacle we put ourselves in. The market we’ve been shopping in has been bargain basement. As Japan showed in the World Cup, we’ve brought in some real gems that don’t need much polishing.
Kyogo didn’t make it into the squad. Daizen Maeda did. He scored against Croatia and had a goal disallowed earlier in the competition. His main attribute seemed to be (as we have seen) closing down defenders. I don’t think he’s that great. But he’s a useful player to have on the bench and bring on.
Reo Hatate has been, for me, the best player in Scottish football. He faded towards the end of last season. But started this season with a bang. I certainly don’t want to sell, but he’s worth whatever they pay for a top-class midfielder in the top-tier of English football.
Matt O’Riley was a steal. Like Hatate he oozes class. I prefer him further forward. Aaron Mooy had a decent World Cup. I’m glad for him. But these guys are better.
Calum McGregor will be back. The ball moves quicker with him in the team. Cameron Carter-Vickers got a game in the World Cup. The American coach said he selected Carter- Vickers because Iran used ‘a low block’. What he meant by that was they played with ten men behind the ball for most of the match. Carter-Vickers playing for Celtic did that week in, week out. He has an old head for that kind of game.
Carter-Vickers had a good defensive record with Carl Starfelt. I’m not a fan of the Swedish international. I think he’s average at best. Moritz Jenz is not much better. I wouldn’t be too worried if we didn’t pick up on him after the loan deal is done. In contrast, Carter-Vickers and Jota were great business. They agreed to stay and, the good thing about a loan deal—try before you buy—they added stability and class. But then again, I was a critic of Greg Taylor and he’s been outstanding this season and most of last. I guess this is a hangover of remembering what Kieran Tierney brought to the party. Taylor has seen a slew of others, including Boli Bolingoli (money wasted) and is holding off Alexandro Bernabei. The young Argentinian looks very decent on attack. But like Taylor, he’s tiny, but unlike Taylor, he’s not proven himself defensively.
I don’t think Stephen Welsh is good enough for Celtic, but a good backup.
Yuki Kobayashi has agreed to join Celtic from Vissel Kobe on a five-year contract and it seems he plays on the left side of defence. That would give us balance as Carter-Vickers favours the right. If Kobayashi is half as good as Hatate we’ve got another steal on our hands. He’s played for Japan at under-20 level. I’m sure he’ll be cultured on the ball, but it’s heading the ball he’ll need to be good at. Lumping the ball forward, we lose most of our goals domestically from corner and free-kicks. He’ll need to get used to the nitty gritty, but I’m sure he’ll get his chance, but it’s up to him to take it. I’m hopeful. Japan being so successful during the World Cup has made Postecoglou seem more and more like a genius for his bargain buys.
The exception has been Yosuke Ideguchi. He’s been very unlucky with injuries. He’s been very unlucky Celtic have so many brilliant midfielders. David Turnbull, for example, was first pick week in and week out when Postecoglou inherited a squad that proved itself not fit for purpose. Turnbull was Scotland’s Young Player of the Year. He looked to make that next step. He got injured. He no longer is a first-pick, but that may change, and the only way it will change is if he adds more goals to his game. He looks capable of that, but until he does, he’s behind McGregor, Hatate and O’Riley, but in front of Oliver Abigaard.
Oliver Abigaard is a more defensive midfielder, he’s big and great in the air. I think he’s on loan, I don’t think he’ll become a permanent fixture. He isn’t in the Celtic team, but probably just in front of Ideguchi and James McCarthy when the manager looks at his bench.
Sead Haksabonovic can play on the left or the right, or drop off into the number ten role. He’s a standout in any position. What a brilliant buy. Now he’s scoring a goal a game.
Jota on the left, Liel Abada on the right. The young Israeli has been a great buy. But he’s not guaranteed a game. Haksabonovic has played there. Jota has too. Maeda has floated from one wing to the other and played through the middle. James Forrest has found himself fit and ready to go, but is least likely than any of the above to start a game, but sometimes he comes on and scores. For Neil Lennon, James Forrest was irreplaceable. The Celtic team has moved on. He’s been replaced.
There’s talk of replacing Georgios Giakoumakis with South Korea international Cho Gue-sun. I don’t know anything about him. Speculation that Al-Ahly playmaker Magdy will also be joining us has made the back pages. I’m not concerned if he does or doesn’t. We seem to be on track. Peter Lawwell’s return as Chief Executive after the ten-in-a-row debacle has been criticised. Dermot Desmond likes him. It’s our football club, but he owns it. He does what he wants. He appoints who he pleases. Celtic is not a democracy. It’s his ball, and if we don’t like it, we can lump it.
Defence against attack. Fifty goals scored. Nine points clear.
Kyogo missed the two best chances of the first-half. After a quarter hour, he got on the end of a cross and the ball floated harmlessly over the bar. Carter-Vickers had taken a pot-shot form twenty-odd yards. The keeper, Laidlaw spilled the ball and Kyogo was unable to get on the rebound. Then almost on the half-hour mark, Kyogo was played clean through by Matt O’Riley. The Japanese forward put his shot past the post.
We looked at the team selection and then we look across the city to see if the worst team in Champions League history are due another penalty in Paisley. I was on the terracing, all those years ago, when Mo Johnston was in the team and there was a miracle as Love Street. The other Glasgow team will need to do something similar. There’s still that element of doubt.
Carter-Vickers captains the team before heading off the World Cup. Jenz comes in but goes off before half-time with a head knock. Carl Starfelt coming on. I’ve not being a fan of the Swede, but neither was I a fan of Taylor, who has been exceptional. Alexandro Bernabei started and played 85 minutes. The young Argentinean looks a good prospect. He got a bit of a chasing at Hearts and he was hooked at half-time at home last week against Dundee United. But that was good management. He’d been booked. He lost out as you’d expect to long balls played out to Jordan White. But, one run, in particular from our half in to the last third of the field, took out most of the Ross County midfield. There’s nothing wrong with his attacking play.
Hatate and O’Riley provide their usual elegant pairing. Further forward, Sead Hakšabanović got booked just before half time in a first half Ross County tried to frustrate. David Munro, the referee helped with some strange decisions. Laidlaw, for example, picking the ball up after dropping it as his feet. And O’Riley, as he did later in the game, making a good tackle in the box, and taking the ball off a Ross County player, but is penalised. But the VAR decision, wasn’t even the referees. I’m not sure Matt O’Riley was in the box. But three Celtic players seem to have got the job done of ushering the ball out and into attack. Callum Johnson’s challenge meant the ball bobbled up and stuck his arm.
Penalty and job done for David Cancola and Ross County. They’re a goal ahead after 50 minutes in a game they never threatened to score.
Celtic poured forward looking for an equaliser. David Turnbull’s shot from outside the box the pick of the bunch.
Ten minutes after County’s VAR penalty, Celtic had a shout for one which was ignored. Ralston taking a dunt in the back inside the box and going down. It would have been soft. But it wasn’t given.
It didn’t affect the final score. Reo Hatate created the two goals. His turn inside the box was superb and just as he looked as if he was going to shoot he drifted toward the six-yard box and cut it back. David Turnbull took a touch and nutmegged the keeper. There was still thirty minutes of the match left to get a winner.
Eight minutes later, Sead Haksabanovic got us it with a classy finish. Hatate played him in with a cushioned pass in a one-two movement. The Montenegrin had lots of defenders in front of him, but he bent the ball, almost in slow-motion inside the post.
This was his last action as Postecoglou replaced our front three. Giorgos Giakoumakis had a couple of chances when he came on and can think himself unlucky not to score. Jota and Abada also had decent efforts on goal. Ross County didn’t create anything in the last twenty. They didn’t create anything in the other seventy, but they were given a goal. It didn’t prove to be enough. Celtic are in a good place. Champions and Champion elect.
Carter-Vickers is back. No surprise there. I’m not sure he was missed, after losing two goals from two penalties involving VAR. Three including the one we missed. We’ve been missing lots of penalties. Four penalty takers and four straight misses. The reign of Spanish and European champions wasn’t about to be changed be a wee team from Glasgow. Seven changes from the team that started in the Bernabeu. Victory would take us seven points clear. The other team from Glasgow play tomorrow. But until the end of the end we looked like giving them a gift.
Celtic started the game as if they could score nine again. Sead Haksabanovic got us the early goal our play deserved in the sixth minute. Jota already had a shot on goal, but he miscued shot or cross had the same result. The Montenegrin knocked the ball into the net at the back post. He’s been a great signing. Can play left or right, or through the middle. He hasn’t got the pace of Maeda, for example, but he can take a man on.
His second goal, almost half an hour later, he too advantage of a cleared cross and drove the ball into the ground, from the left- wing this time. Birighitti had made a couple of saves, but was poor here. He palmed the ball over the line. Celtic were back in front.
But Steven Fletcher’s twelfth minute penalty changed the game. United’s first attack led to the first goal. Even in the nine nil rout at Tanadice, Fletcher had won most of his aerial duels. He did that again today.
We know we’ve got a soft centre. And in a game United were hardly in they looked like snatching a draw.
Going back to the penalty, commentator Simon Donnelly was unhappy with the award. I take his point. Alexandro Bernabei is tiny. Why he was jumping to challenge for cross ball with the best header of the ball on the park wasn’t mentioned? Fletcher got there first, as expected. On the way down his headed ball and it hit Bernabei’s arm. He’d no way of getting out of the way. Was it intentional? No. Was it a penalty? I’d be shouting for it. Because Fletcher’s header was going towards the goal. Hart’s not been in great form, but I’m sure he would have plucked it out of the air if it hadn’t hit the Argentinian’s arm. It wasn’t like O’Reilly’s midweek ‘handball’ which skiffed off his elbow, with the ball heading for the stands. Fletcher scored that’s all that mattered.
Beranbei was booked, unfairly, and hooked at half-time. A bit unfair, but I think a good call from the manager. No point in taking chances with referees. But the problem with the penalty was it penalised Celtic twice. It gave United a foothold in the game (undeserved, but that’s football, that’s the kind of foothold we’d have liked Juranovic to give us midweek) but it also broke the game up. It knocked the early dynamism off stride. We never really recovered that full fluidity.
Obviously there were flashes. Giakoumakis hit the post and the keeper made a few descent saves from the Greek striker most of them from headers. Turnbull had a few efforts. Jota. O’Riley. James Forrest when he came on. The usual suspects.
Postecoglou’s double substitution around the hour mark paid late dividends. Sead Haksabanovic and Giorgios Giakoumais make way for Liel Abada and Kyogo Furuhashi.
Tony Watt also coming on as a substitute at the same time seemed to have got that nick on the ball that went past Hart from an in-swinging cross. It wasn’t all one way. Glen Middleton picked up a through-ball that took out fellow substitute Forrest. His toe poke beat Joe Hart. Greg Taylor scrambled the ball off the line for a corner.
United then hit the post from the resulting corner. United captain, Dylan Levitt beating the Celtic captain Carter-Vickers in the air (again), highlighting how slim a one goal margin is for this defence of our title.
We know it all worked out in the end. With three minutes to go and injury time, the narrative goes either United are plucky or Celtic show character. Kyogo won it for us. After a succession of corners, Ralston got a touch at the near post. Kyogo, unmarked, headed home.
Liel Abada added another in injury time (he always scores against United) to add to his personal tally, and to make the game, at last, safe. Phew. What should have been easy was made hard. VAR didn’t help. Neither did our defending or the missing of numerous chances, in that order. Motherwell up next in midweek, Fir Park. Then Ross County at home. Should be six points. But I thought today’s match would be a canter.
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?