Tear along dotted line – the Celtic season starts here.

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Most Celtic supporters I’ve talked to would be happy with another domestic treble, perhaps with a European Cup thrown in for good measure. In Lennie we trust (well kinda).

Lennon got us over the line last year, winning the Scottish Cup  and the treble. There was a minimum and maximum as there is this year. I’d guess the minimum is a domestic double, Scottish League and one other trophy. In terms of Europe, qualification for the group stage of the Europa League.

The Europa League is a bit boring. We really want Champions League nights. Money and prestige are stitched together here. If Lenny gets Celtic through four qualifiers and into the Champions League group stages then he’s half way to being able to say job done. Then we can start kidding ourselves that other teams hate coming to Parkhead. The truth is the bigger teams love playing in a packed-out stadium where they always win. Yes, I do remember Tony Watt’s goal against Barcelona, loved every second of it, but freak results do happen. That’s why domestically Celtic are unlikely to win the treble again this year. They are the best team in Scotland, but an off day and we’re out of the cup.

Qualifying for Europe also means the squad is stretched and we’ve more games to play. After Rodger’s first season we began to regularly look vulnerable and drop points to teams like Kilmarnock and Hearts.

Strangely, despite Celtic’s treble-treble Rangers’ fans believe again. Their optimism is based on Celtic not spending and taking  two steps backwards in the last two seasons and Rangers finally going four or five games unbeaten. Rangers can win the league this year, but only if Celtic go into meltdown.

Celtic’s biggest buy of the season and long overdue is a centre-half in Christopher Julien. I’ve not seen him, but sometimes you just get that feeling…Kris Ayer will probably play alongside him in the centre of defence. Both are six-foot five, both are good with the ball at their feet. Both are called Chris. If they play to their potential Celtic will continue to monitor all players called Chris/Kris and try and integrate them into the Celtic family for Christmas.

I guess Jozo Simunovic will be the odd man out. He’d a great end of season, scoring that goal in the 67th minute and honouring Billy McNeil while wearing number 5. He looked like a half-decent defender at Parkhead, which must give Jack Hendry hope.

Lustig also had a fine end to the season and his Celtic career, but any winger with pace gave him a chasing, so it was thanks and no thanks. Anthony Ralston, for the moment, holds the jersey. Ironically, it was the young right back for Hearts in the last game of the season and in the Scottish Cup Final, a former Celtic graduate, who showed Ralston how it should be done.  I guess Celtic need to strengthen here. The Heart’s boy would be worth a punt, but we’ll go for the tried and tested, although I’m not sure who.

Arsenal and Napoli are interested in Kieran Tierney. He’s injured. He’s been injured quite a lot recently. The selling price is allegedly £25 million. I’d like to see Tierney stay. He’s a Celtic man and the best left back since Anton Rogan of Lisburn Distillery, but that might have been taking things a bit too far. Kieran Tierney is one of us, a fan, blessed with ability. Stay.

Johnny Hayes has been filling in at left back. I like Hayes, he’s street-smart, but never Celtic class (see Anton Rogan) and neither is he good enough to play as an out and out winger.

With Tierney out in the short, and perhaps longer term, Celtic have brought in a replacement. Under Rodgers it tended to be of the loan-deal variety. We paid more than £3 million for  Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo. He talks a good game. Telling us he has pace and…we’ll wait and see, but if Tierney stays, he’s our improved model of Emilio Izaguirre (good luck to the Honduran, but never a good idea to bring an old player back, hopefully the same thing doesn’t apply to an old manager).

In midfield we were always stacked with riches. Let’s start with the one that wants away. Olivier Ntcham had a few good games. He had a few bad games. You’ve got to laugh when he comes out with the excuse Scottish football is holding him back excuse. It never held back Henrik Larsson or  Harald Brattbakk or Virgil van Dijk. Two of these went on to lift the European Cup. Nitcham looks more of a Harald with every word that comes out of his mouth. He’s decided to go. Celtic want to sell. We’re waiting, but we’ll drop the price until someone takes him.

Ironically, I’m a big fan of Scottish, under-twenty-one international, Ewan Henderson who has fallen down the pecking order. Henderson, like his brother Liam, is Celtic class. I did predict years ago that Celtic would build their team around Liam. I’m not going to predict they’re going to build their team around Ewan (although I am tempted).

Remember Eboue Kouassi? He’s still there. He might do a Ryan Christie, you never know. Nah, he willnae. But wishful thinking is allowed.

Lewis Morgan is of that ilk. He went to Sunderland on loan and came back. We’ll probably send him out again somewhere. Special pre-seaon offer, three-for-one deal with Kouassi and Jack Henry.   Not bad players. Just not good enough for Celtic.

Scott Sinclair is on the final year of his contract. Anybody comes in, he can go. He’ll spend a lot of time on the bench if he doesn’t. He’ll be the type of player we bring on in the 85th minute hoping he can reproduce some of his penalty-box poacher- magic of his first two seasons.

Daniel Arzani lasted five minutes at Celtic, before getting injured. He’s got a chance, but only if young Karamoko Dembele  is thought too young for the first team.

Maryan Shved is a winger that excited Celtic fans, without playing a game for us. It was all highlights from abroad. Need to wait and see. Here’s hoping.

I’ve not mentioned James Forrest, the Celtic winger, who Lennon played through the middle in friendlies. Lennon brought Forrest into the team when he was here the last time. He used to talk him up and we’d be watching the same game and thinking…Whit? Lennon had a good season. Rodgers loved him. Lennon does too. He’ll play all the big games and most of the little ones. It’s going to be a big season for James Forrest.

Mikey Johnstone looks to be a Forrest stand in. Johnstone has plenty of trickery. He scores goals. He’s a Celt, here’s hoping he follows the Forrest pathway.

Scott Brown does what Scott Brown does. Lennon trusts him as did Rodgers before him. He’ll play the majority of our games.

Nobody played more games for club and country than Callum McGregor. If Forrest was Lennon’s love child, McGregor was Rodger’s. He played in almost every position for Rodgers apart from striker and goalie. I’m sure Rodgers would have handed him the gloves. There’s talk of a £20 million bid from the Leicester manager. That’s a wait and see.

Tom Rogic is another wait and see project. He didn’t look out of place when we played Manchester City in the Champions League under Rodgers. As good as anyone. But prone to injuries. Scores goals in big games, but in the Scottish Cup final (I can’t even remember if he played) and games against Rangers, in fact, most of last season, a wash out.  If clubs are offering £9 million or £10 million, I’d be very tempted to take it and bring back Paddy McCourt.

Ryan Christie wrote the script of the forgotten man biding his time. After losing out on John McGinn we were dreadful against a long-ball Hearts team at Tynecastle. Christie came on and scored and turned the game around. He was a goal-a-game man afterwards. Automatic first pick. His energy was of the Stuart Armstrong variety, but he had a better touch, better end product, a better player. But then that dreadful injury. He’s back but what Ryan Christie will emerge?

Luca Connell was coveted by other teams. Here’s hoping Lennie knew of him from his Bolton days. He’s young, which is always good. Is he ready for the first team?

Odsonne Edouard is our main striker. He missed a penalty in our last friendly in Switzerland against Gallen. Nobody cares about that, as long as he scores goals. He can be deceptively brilliant or just deceptive. He’s scored in big games, at crucial times in a match. He won us the league and Scottish Cup, but he doesn’t score enough. Maybe this season?

Leigh Griffiths is back. That’s fucking magic. Remember Griffiths once scored 40 plus goals in one season. He is a striker. No messing. There is a fair chance Lennon will play two strikers in games. Griffiths will get his chance. It’s really up to him. Here’s hoping.

I’d high hopes for the Ivorian international Vakoun Issouf Bayo. His strength is in the air. Lennon knows more than most, when pressed, as we were at Ibrox, a big target man gives you the route out of your half and adds goals. Recently, he’s been injured. That’s been a pattern. We don’t need any more projects. We don’t need another Kouassi. We need Bayo to force his way into the team in the same way Christie did, by scoring goals.

Are we stronger than last year? Yeh, we’ve been crying out for a decent centre-half for the last four years. One man doesn’t make a team, but it’s a start. We need a right-back, pronto. Perhaps Bayo won’t be good enough, then we need another striker. We might need a back-up centre-half for the back-up centre-half. If we sell Rogic or McGregor, we need another midfielder. The joker we have in the pack is Dembele. He looks a player. This might be his season. We’re in Sarajevo, let’s hope we can win and make the second leg a formality.

 

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Celtic 2—1 Rangers.

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Celtic win 2—1 and go thirteen points clear in the Scottish Premier League with seven games remaining. Should be eight-in-a-row for the Scottish Champions. Perhaps for the first time ever Sky coverage at half-time wasn’t a beautifully worked first time pass from Calumn McGregor to Odsonnne Edouard and the goal that separated the Old Firm. The French striker still had a lot to do, with the two Ranger’s centre-halves between him and the goal, but he dribbled around them and finished with aplomb. Half-time coverage was more about Morelos’s red card. He swung an elbow at Scott Brown and left Rangers with ten men for the remained of the game. After the battering Rangers took, it was expected to be a turkey shoot for Celtic in the second half.

But Rangers played better without Morelos and with ten men. Kent’s equaliser was the equivalent of Edouard’s opener. Kent skinned the Celtic defence, leaving Boyata in his wake and shooting past Bain.  And Ryan Jack scooped over the Celtic bar, one of those kind of misses that his erstwhile Columbian colleagues seemed to specialise in when playing Celtic. The sting in the tail was a sloppy Tavernier back pass. Edouard pounced, running at the retreating Ranger’s defence and picking out Forest who tucked it away. Game over. Well, not quite. There was still time for Ayer to make a tackle to prevent an equaliser from Worrall and for Halliday to collect a second yellow and red. And also for Kent to pick up what seems likely to be a retrospective red card for hitting Scott Brown.

Edouard the best man on the park, went quietly about his business. He’s consistently scored goals in big games and is still only twenty-one. Room for improvement, but when we now talk about a twenty-million pound striker it shouldn’t be the Columbian we are talking about, but the young Frenchman. Once again Edouard has come up with important goals. Once again Morelos does what Morelos does and implodes. No club is going to spend tens of millions on a striker that loses rather than wins you games. If you’re looking at a real striker, look no further than Edouard. All is good in Paradise. Long may it continue. Hail-Hail.

Celtic 0—2 Valencia

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I wasn’t sure what to expect here. Davie Logue said he was more concerned about Kilmarnock on Sunday and the treble-treble. Well, where do I start? Celtic weren’t terrible and they weren’t outclassed. They just did what Celtic do, have some passages of play and gave away amateur goals. It was easy enough to win seven games on the bounce and concede no goals when playing St Johnstone three times and teams from lower divisions. Valencia were unlikely to be overawed by Celtic being able to pass the ball for ten minutes around the park. Valencia drew with Barcelona away and they are the Harlem Globetrotters of retaining the ball for fun.

The problem with passing the ball around at the back is you need to have the players to do it. Toljan has had an easy enough start in Celtic colours. But he does have a tendency to bring the ball backwards. Too much for my liking, especially when playing it back to the keeper.

Scott Bain has ousted Craig Gordon from the number one spot. His passing has been great and his goalkeeping good. He had no chance with any of the two goals. But his passing was rotten and he piled pressure on an already wayward defence.

Emilio Izaguirre has looked great when playing the lower leagues. But when you look back at big games he either makes a mistake or is posted missing. Here he was a bit of both. Izaguirre played onside Ruben Sobrino who didn’t need disco-lights to find his way to the goals. His pass for Cheryshev was as you’d expect at this level, leaving the latter with a tap-in. 1—0 down at half time.

Three minutes into the second half and game over, tie over. Again it comes from the left-hand side, Izaguirre’s side. Johnny Hayes would have been a much better option and should play here until Tierney is fit.

Izzaguirre’s performance was matched by Brown’s. The Celtic captain at this level just isn’t good enough. When not playing passes to the opposition, he lost tackles, and lost control of the ball so many times over ninety minutes that players like Iniesta have not lost over a long and distinguished career. There’s no substitute for class.  For the record Brown was robbed by substitute Francis Coquelin. The ball was played in behind the Celtic defence. It was whipped over by Cheryshev who picked out Sobrino.

Our central defence despairing. Jozo Simunovic doesn’t want to play the ball from the back. He’s not very good at it and not a great defender either. A replacement for Virgil. That’s almost funny.

Dedryck Boyata is the opposite of Jozo, he does want to play football from the back, but makes the kind of errors that would make Scott Brown cringe. He’s good in the air, but Celtic play the ball along the ground. In a high pressing game like Ibrox or last night, he’s more liable to play in the opposition that create a chance.  Izaguirre is always posted missing. Boyata is always found wanting, big time. Big-match jitters begin but don’t end with Boyata. Wanting away, fuck off then.

Callum McGregor was alright without doing anything much, which isn’t really alright.

Sinclair had one great run, which turned out to be a dead-end, which kinda sums him up.

Forest had three penalty claims turned down. I’d have taken the three of them, but none of them seemed clear-cut.

The substitute Timo Weah, probably had the best shout for a penalty, but by then we knew the tie was already done.

Ryan Christie was also taken off. Nobody noticed he was on the park. He’s regressed big-time. A replacement part that is no longer doing the job.

Oliver Burke was found wanting in the basics of controlling the ball. His enthusiasm carried him some way, but at this level, it’s never enough.

Odsonne Edouard, on for Christie after sixty minutes, spent the next thirty minutes trying to nut-meg Valencia players. Good idea, when it works, but it didn’t.

Treble-treble? Not sure. Might stumble over the finishing line in the league. I’d say that’s an eighty-five percent probability. Scottish Cup sixty-forty.

I think last night confirmed what Rodgers already knows. He’ll not be here much longer. End of the season, no matter how it goes, and I think it’ll be nos vemos más tarde.

Rangers 1— 5 Celtic

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The Celtic players went to the away end of a largely empty fortress Ibrox and celebrated as if they’d won the league. Leigh Griffiths who scored the second of Celtic’s goals, with a typical thunderbolt strike into the top corner, and was very unlucky not to have scored a third with a wonderful strike against the bar after a robust Jozo Simunovitch tackle on veteran Kenny Miller and a typical breakaway from one box to another. Griffith’s claimed that Celtic could have scored seven or eight. Nobody at Ibrox was arguing with him. Rookie Myles Beerman was again given the run around by Patrick Roberts, but the Celtic winger (sadly departing soon back to his parent club, Manchester City) was running out of the Ranger’s penalty box in six minutes when the full back hammered him. It was a stupid tackle, punished by a coolly taken Scot Sinclair penalty, who himself should have had a hat trick. As a general rule for the diddy team to have any hope they must score first and their goalkeeper must be man of the match. The only Glasgow team, in this regard, which can be widened to Scotland, to cause Celtic any problems so far this season have been Partick Thistle. Wes Fortheringham, the Ranger’s keeper has in the two games against Celtic, in a week, acquitted himself well. He might have been at fault from an in- swinging free-kick in which Dedryck Boyata stepped in and headed home, but there was a long list of culpable candidates masquerading in blue which included Josh Windass who was supposedly marking him. After the first goal a pudding-faced Ranger’s fan ran onto the pitch and tried to attack Scott Brown. The police had to check that this wasn’t a Ranger’s substitute coming on before huckling him away, but at half time we had the real thing with the doo, Joe Dodoo being left inside and the kung-fu kicking Andy Halliday brought on. Celtic were two goals up. We’ve all been at those games where that’s been  turned around. This wasn’t one of them. A third goal from Callum McGregor, who was again composed and quick on the ball, and his second goal against Rangers in a week, has kept other talented Celtic players out of the team. I’ve not been convinced by Simunovic but he strolled it here and Boyata still has that hint of a hangover when he was bullied in that semi-final clash Celtic lost last year to Rangers. But both were outstanding, winning all their headers and making neat passes. Mikael Lustig even popped up as a poacher at the other end and scored the fifth, with a neat inswinging shot to the post. Kieran Tierney, the future of Celtic, did what he does and won man of the match. It’s getting to be a habit bombing up and down the pitch and when he gets to the last third he makes chances for forwards. Kenny Miller did score one for Rangers, which was disappointing for a Celtic defence hoping to keep a clean sheet.

David Murray famously sold the Ibrox club, lock stock and falling down stands for a quid to the shyster Craig Whyte to avoid paying any cash out of his own pocket for sins of the past. You need to ask yourself which Celtic players would get in this current Ranger’s team. Obviously the first Celtic eleven, then the four on the bench that include Forrest, Kossaki, Bitton, Gamboa and the best player in two draws against Manchester City, Rogic. Those that can’t even get on the bench like Izzy and Henderson and the multi-talented Commons. Then if we take a step down the leagues were in every Celtic v Ranger’s games in reserve or under-20 football there is only one victor and they never wear blue. Who’s better than us? Ask Ranger’s veteran and player of the year, Kenny Miller.

The Effing trouble with Efe. (Celtic 2—Fenerbahce 2)

I’ve a lot of sympathy for Efe Ambrose. After all somebody’s got to be Efe. We had the same trouble. When I used to play for Dalmuir there always came that time when you realised you were a man down and would need to drag somebody, anybody, off the street. Once it was a three-legged dog that we put the Dalmuir hoops on and tied it to the goalpost. The referee said we couldn’t do that kind of thing, but we slipped him a can of beer and even though Down Shep was a dog and not Billy the Fish, he won man of the match. If we were really stuck we used to go up and ask Wilma Biggins to play for us. But there came a time when she got too grown up for that kind of thing and we ended up with Brian Biggins. So I know exactly how it feels to play beside an Efe. In fact there were a number of Efes in the Dalmuir teams over the years. Wee Johnny was a great wee player, but some of the guys he brought along were more Efe than Efe.  The test was whether they had their own shin guards. Guys with their own shin guards usually knew how to tie their laces. One of the guys Johnny brought completely turned a cup tie. We were not like Celtic 2-0 up and cruising, but 3-0 and this guy scored a quick one-two, for you know who. Sometimes a team can be stronger that is a man short. Sometimes Efe is not required. Like Gary McClaren with the great Dalmuir teams of yester-yore , I’m not blaming our Ronny Deila. Obviously with so many injuries and call offs he was out scouting the streets before kick-off. He must have picked up Kieran Tierney from a local primary school, but like Down Shep before him, he showed a lot of bite and was outstanding. When he begins to shave he’ll be a great prospect. Dedryck Boyata for once didn’t put a foot wrong and even had a great sliding challenge on van Persie that reminded me of gravel rash and ouch, ouch. Scott Brown for once did more than run about and growl. James Forest ran past players. Leigh Griffiths scored a great poacher’s goal.  Kris Commons now there’s a fitba player. As commentator Chris Sutton said after a blistering shot near the end, ‘that’s why he needs to be in the team every week.’ He also told us why Efe shouldn’t be in the team every week or any week. The bigger the game the more likely he is to make an error. Stefan Johnsen and Nir Bitton were missing in action, but at least they brought their own shin guards. Efe obviously didn’t. It would be funny. It should be funny, but you know what…?

Why can’t the best player in Scottish football get a game?

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Kris Commons, Scottish footballer of the year with 32 goals last season, described by Chris Sutton as the nearest Celtic have got to a Lubo Moravcik and voted as the best player in Scottish football by his fellow professionals is leaving Celtic –why?

He’s 31. Lubo Moravcik was 49 (well 33) when he came to Celtic, or so it seemed as the time. He scores on his debut against Dundee and a fortnight later against Rangers and let’s face it, there’s no better way to start, and we couldn’t care less if he’s father time. Commons scores a double in his debut against Aberdeen. He’s not stopped scoring since then. It’s the nearest Celtic get to a player that says play me and I’ll score.

Looking  over the border at, arguably, the next English Champions  Chelsea and John Terry gets a deal (and they’re a wee bit better than us) and he’s 34. Frank Lampard, who left Chelsea because he was too old at 36, but via a stint in the States, ends up at the other billionaires club of Manchester City and he’s hardly looked clapped out. But let’s face it Chelsea can allow Mata to go and bring in Cesc Fabergas. Who exactly are Celtic going to bring in to score those missing goals?

In our last game against Ross County, which ended 0-0 Commons came on as a sub for a sub. That shows he’s not even a first pick in the subs’ stakes. How dispiriting is that going to be for Celtic’s best player?

Chris Commons doesn’t run about enough, he doesn’t track back and make those tackles that modern players need to make. Neither does Craig Gordon. Nobody can dispute his value. Effe Ambrose runs about like a train on the wrong set of tracks. Virgil van Dilk (he’s off as well, and personally I’d rather keep Commons) is often found patrolling outside the oppositions’ penalty box and Emilio Izzaguire is more frequently, than our so-called wingers, caught offside.  I’ll give you a clue. These guys are meant to be defenders, but usually not in the same way as Ambrose is meant to be a defender.

And anyway, how many defensive midfielders do Celtic need? Stefan Johansen, who has come onto a run of form, can play a defensive midfielder. Scott Brown can also play defensively, as can Biton and most other Celtic players. None of them can score goals with the consistency of Kris Commons. In fact if you add up all the goals scored between them last year, or in fact any year, and you’ll find, as an aggregate total, as a combined group, they cannot score as many as Kris Commons. The only commonality is they don’t score many goals.

So who do we replace out best goal scorer and best player with? Well, there’s always that unknown and untouched talent somewhere in the world and if we can get to him first- on Planet X- and the price-tag is under 50p, then we’ve got a chance of a loan deal.

The simple solution is to give Kris Commons a new deal. But there is little or no point in doing that if he’s not going to get a run of games. That seems unlikely. I’ll miss Kris Commons. He’s been one of our best buys. Cost next to nothing. Came in, done his job and left, all without fuss. That’s the problem. Not enough fuss is being made about his value to Celtic. You’re only as good as your last game. Our last game was a stinker. We need class. Kris Commons is class.

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