Celtic’s midwinter break

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.

Livingston 0—3 Celtic

Kyogo’s super strike inside ten minutes did little to change the home team’s game-plan (and that of the other teams in the Scottish League, including Rangers), which was to defend deep and hope to win something from corners, free-kicks and long throws into the box from Livingston full-back Devlin. Celtic with on average eighty-five percent possession limited Livingston’s chances to one Shinnie shot on goal, which was easily saved by Joe Hart.  

A year ago, Georgios Giakoumakis brought the world to a halt (or at least that’s what it felt like) when he missed an injury-time penalty that would have given us three points. We were chasing Rangers in the League. And even that early in the season it felt like league over.

The Greek striker also missed an 83rd minute penalty today, which was given after substitute Jota’s cross was given as hand ball after a VAR intervention. It wasn’t as clear cut as the non-penalty not given by VAR in Tynecastle last week.  But it was a chance for Giakoumakis to add to his goal-a-game status after he came on to replace Kyogo. He hit the outside of the post. But it was a game in which it didn’t affect the result or league position.

It’s difficult to imagine saying goal-a-game Greg Taylor, but in the 53rd minute he was at it again. His shot from outside a crowded box went through goalkeeper Hamiliton’s legs. The keeper should have done better. But it was equally difficult to imagine Taylor doing better. His performances this season have had me eating my words. He’s first pick on merit. And make the memory of Bolingoli seem like a distant nightmare.

Jota’s injury meant he’s missed the last five games. He returned to score an 83rd minute goal that better reflected Celtic’s superiority. Substitute David Turnbull, also back from injury, put it on the plate for him.  

Livingston have bullied us in the past (remember Lyndon Dykes against Julien, I wonder what happened to the Scottish international?) But without the ball the success of back-to-front football never looked like happening today. We remain four points clear of that other Glasgow team and will go into the transition with the World Cup looming at top of the league. I can’t see us getting eighty-five-percent possession when we play Real Madrid on Wednesday. They picked us apart at Parkhead under the lights.  I was at the game in 1980 when we beat them 2—0 at Parkhead. Johnny Doyle, the diminutive Celtic die-hard, scoring two goals, in a game in which we were totally outplayed, with Laurie Cunnigham, in particular, standing out. I’ll take a two nil win on Wednesday and a similar win against Dundee United next week before our Australian tour. Georgios Giakoumakis should also be taken off the list on penalty takers.

St Johnston 1—2 Celtic.

Roll out all the clichés and talk about character. Celtic blew it conceding a late Alex Mitchell goal, which equalised an earlier Andrew Considine own-goal just before half-time. Then, unbelievably, we scored with almost the last kick of the ball on the 95th minute. Georgios Giakoumakis getting in front of the defender and onto a Bernabei cross to knock the ball into the net. One point became three points.  

The return to the team of Carter-Vickers is the most notable to the team defeated in Germany. He captained the team, but didn’t have a great game. He was booked after a mistimed header. Clarke won most of the early headers as Saint Johnstone went route one (as St Mirren did to their advantage). Our centre-half pairing lost more aerial duals than they won. Two early balls bouncing and getting into the box.  We play R.B. Leipzig on Tuesday. I think they’ll beat us. But obviously I hope I’m proved wrong.

Welsh partners Carter-Vickers. He’s not been great and reminds me of Caldwell, who was underrated for a reason.

Ralston has been pretty good when called upon. On the other side, Bernabei has a point to prove, but has had little chance to do so because Greg Taylor has got better and better (and I didn’t think I’d ever be admitting that). Like many of his team mates, he’d a great first-half in which Celtic dominated over 80% of the ball. He also lost the ball and allowed St Johnstone a run on goal, but that apart, was involved in the winner. Less effective when Maeda replaced Jota.  

No McGregor as a pivot. He’s been top class. I’d have expected Abildgard or Mooy to come in here, but the Australian wasn’t on the pitch, but on the bench. He and Ablidgard came on to close the game down or something like that in the last twenty minutes. Maybe O’Riley is taking a step backwards, but he looked assured in his new deeper role. Hit the post from outside the box.

Sead Haksabanovic taking up the number 10 role, or vice-versa? It was his run and shot which gave us the half-time lead. He carried the ball well and played some great passes. A good shout for being man of the match.

Jota on one wing and Abada on the other seems more straightforward. They were one of the reasons we won the league last year. But neither showed that form in Perth. Jota taken off at half-time. He’d a headed chance which went wide.  Offside anyway.  I hope it’s not an injury.

Abada had a stinker. He had three chances to score. He was denied by Matthews late on. The equivalent of Steve May’s run into the box and Joe Hart’s save to keep our one-nil lead intact. But by far the miss of the game was by some distance his shot from six yards with an empty goal to pass into which would have given an early lead.

The rarely sighted James Forrest replaced Abada with twenty minutes remaining and did more than Abada in seventy minutes.   

Hatate has been one of our most influential players this season. He shone today again. Our most incisive passer inside and outside the box.   

Kyogo remains on the bench. In the carousel of league and Champions League ties, Giakoumakis gets his start, but only five first half touches. He scored again, thank god. It doesn’t matter to us who scores, but we have been missing lots of chances and it has cost us. It nearly did again today. Porous defence. Misfiring attack. Something has got to give. Giakoumakis can think himself unlucky if he doesn’t start in the Champions League. Bernabei might also have a case with his assured performance today. Abada less so.    

Manager of the Month, Ange Postecoglou.

Ange Postecoglou wins Manager of the Month award again. If he picks up the same award at the end of April then it’s kerching and £40 million Champions League money guaranteed. The question arises, would you take a draw at Ibrox? Obviously, after say 89 minutes and two goals down and I’d say, aye Ange, go for it, take the draw. But life and fitba doesn’t work out like that.

Last time we were in Govan, Edouard started up front. As we know, he’d scored some great goals against Rangers, but missed some complete sitters. He’s another of those matches. Great to see him, Christie and Ajer leave Paradise. We’d developed a habit of outplaying Rangers and losing—usually to a headed goal from a free kick or corner. Lots have changed, we’ve 5000 defensive coaches, but that remains our major vulnerability, home or away.

Our defence picks itself. Hart, Taylor, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt and Juranovic.  

We’re reminded nine out of ten Glasgow derbies are decided by who scores first. Defend corners and defend free kicks and I think we’ll win. But I’m not sure we’ll be able to do that.

We’ll start on the front foot, Ange’s Plan A is also Plan B. Rangers, despite their European success, don’t defend well. A major boost is that Kyogo is fit. He’ll be on the bench, I’m guessing. Georgios Giakoumakis should start after hitting two hat-tricks in two league games. He’s a poacher in the box.

But it wouldn’t surprise me too much if Ange favours Daizen Maeda. I’m still not convinced with him, but he does the doggies, closing down the opposition and getting in behind, in a Kyogo-lite way. And the Japanese forward scores regularly.

Postecoglou tends to play him, but not always through the middle. He’s featured mostly on the left wing. Jota switching to the right. Abada would therefore drop to the bench. He’s not started the last two games. So my best guess is that’s where he’ll start, but come on for the last thirty minutes.

The midfield carousel is harder to pick. McGregor, our captain, playing in front of the defence. Rogic has been pronounced fit. My guess is he’ll start. Certainly, win, lose or draw, if he doesn’t start, he’ll replace O’Riley.

Reo Hatate had the kind of introduction to the Glasgow derby that harked back to the little known Slovenian, Ľubomír “Lubo” Moravčík. The Japanese midfielder’s form has shaded but he’s a definite maybe (as in the Oasis hit). He works best with Maeda. My guess is Taylor, Hatate, Maeda down the left.

Juranovic, Rogic and the Portuguese wonder boy, Jota on the right. We might see the return of David Turnbull at some point, probably late in the game.

Georgios Giakoumakis to start and score first. Win, win, win.