In Ange we trust.

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?

Celtic 0—4 Bayer Leverkusen.

None of my mates thought we’d win tonight (perhaps I should use mate, singular). A draw would have delighted us. We can’t score goals and concede at every opportunity. One win in six games. Against a Dundee United, mid-table Scottish team, we looked vulnerable. Against a German team with far better players, we feared we could face the West Ham scenario again. We feared a thrashing. The return of our captain, Callum McGregor a godsend. Kyogo Furuhashi leading the line an unexpected blessing.

In the first few minutes it was end to end. Leverkusen had a goal disallowed for offside. Kyogo rounded the keeper, Hradecky, and looked sure to put Celtic one up. Tah came in on the Japanese international’s blind side and put the ball out for a corner. The Finish keeper was hard to beat all evening—only something exceptional would get past him.

Tom Rogic has a shot that the keeper puts over the bar. Adam Montgomery plays a ball across the Bayer box but Liel Abada doesn’t get on the end of it. Twenty minutes in and even, the much maligned Carl Starfelt, has a descent effort that the Bayer keeper is forced to save.

Twenty-five minutes in and Parkhead is silenced. David Turnbull is caught in two minds clearing a ball on the Celtic touchline. Bakker nips in front of him and plays a diagonal ball across the six-yard box. Hincapie beats Hart, but Montgomery gets a foot to it, but directs it into the net.

Celtic punch-drunk. Commentator Chris Sutton remarks some of our home town players were hiding and it was difficult to argue with him. Unfortunately, Ralston wasn’t hiding. He gifted Bayer the second goal ten minutes after their first. Dithering on the ball in front of a static back-line. Wirtz one-touch finish made it all look too easy. Celtic on the ropes until half-time.

Celtic went for it at the start of the second-half. Kyogo almost pulled a goal back, holding off a defender and bending a ball in at the post. Hradecky got his fingertips to it. Bayer’s keeper followed that up with a good save from Jota. Ten minutes into the second half and Celtic look as if they might have a goal in them.

Thirteen minutes in and Turnbull goes down in the box, after a challenge from ex-Celt Frimpong. Not a penalty. Frimpong didn’t have the easiest night. He created a couple of gilt-edged chances, but Celtic’s best player, Jota, generally, got the best of him—when attacking.

Seventeen minutes into the second-half and it is game over. Leverkusen get a penalty, when the referee decides the ball hit Cameron Carter-Vickers’ arm and booked the central-defender.  Alario makes it 3-0.

Bayer with a game against top-of-the-table Bayern, at the weekend, bring on around six or seven subs (I lost count). Kyogo finds time to miss another sitter, before he’s taken off. Abada misses a good chance too.

Giakoumakis makes his debut for the last fifteen minutes, but barely gets a kick. Hart makes a world-class save from a downward Shick header with a few minutes remaining. The Bayer substitute the ripped Scotland to shreds can think himself unlucky not to score.

Amine Adli scores the fourth goal, four minutes after the ninety, running beyond a static Celtic defence and hammering the ball into the top corner past Hart.

Celtic were simply outclassed, found wanting all over the pitch. Hart and Jota get pass marks. Kyogo? That’s a tough one. Four chances, no goals. Turnbull sold a goal and just didn’t play. Ralston also sold a goal. You could see his effort, but sometimes effort isn’t enough. Hradecky showed him how it should be done. Sheer class, attacking and defending. We want to play like Manchester City, but we can’t defend and aren’t scoring. This was as close to our first team as you’ll get. Certainly, Christopher Julien is better than Starfelt. I’m better than Starfelt. But the problem doesn’t lie with the Swede international. Good teams find it easy to score against us. So do mediocre teams. Livingston, bottom of the Premier league at the time, beat us 1—0. The good news is I’m sure we’ll beat Aberdeen at Pittodrie. Not totally sure, but pretty sure. They’re wide open as well. And if we can score three or four, we might get better than a draw. If we can hang on to Rangers’ slipstream we’ve an outside chance of the league because they too are stuttering, just not as badly as us. In the Europa league we’ll be lucky to pick up more than a point.

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.

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