The Celtic squad may have little to play for in the rest of the 20-21 season.
Let’s face it, the title is way out of reach. We’re out of the Betfred Cup, the Scottish Cup looks set to be mothballed entirely and we’re out of Europe.
Let’s take this as a positive. There are no distractions, in footballing terms. Neil Lennon (mystifyingly) has one job, and one job only: picking up league points.
The best thing the manager can do is lead Celtic to a winning run that makes the deficit at the top of the league more respectable. With a disappointing January transfer window in the rear view, the Bhoys have the core of a title-winning squad, still.
Let’s look at who’s left, and assess strengths and weaknesses.
Celtic squad: goalkeepers and defenders
The goalkeeping scene at Celtic is an embarrassment.
Vasilis Barkas was brought in during the summer [Daily Record], only for Neil Lennon to drop him. The whole time he’s been here, the club have courted Fraser Forster, and to be honest, you can’t blame them.
Meanwhile, Scott Bain’s Flying Circus has seen more game time than most would hope, and Conor Hazard has been a mixed bag during an unlikely first-team run.
We don’t have an established, reliable first-choice goalkeeper. We had the opportunity to fix that situation, yet not a single credible link between the club and a goalie emerged in the window.
In defence, losing Frimpong is a huge blow. Yes, his end product isn’t the best, and he has had poor matches. Bearing in mind his age and rapid ascent to the first-team, however, it’s unreasonable to find too much fault in Frimpong’s efforts for Celtic.
Jonjoe Kenny has arrived on – you guessed it! – a loan from Everton. If he doesn’t rush out the blocks, we’re left with Anthony Ralston and enigma Hatem Abd Elhamed, who we thought would leave.
At left-back, there’s the solid Greg Taylor and occasionally exciting Diego Laxalt, also on loan. The phrase “plasters on a broken leg” comes to mind with all our temporary squad options. Still, it’s arguably one of our strongest positions.
In the middle, Ajer stayed, and that’s good. Duffy (another loan) stayed, and that’s bad. Christopher Jullien can’t return quickly enough, while Welsh is left out of the side for no good reason. Nir Bitton is, frankly, not a centre-back. Defensively, Celtic have been porous and despite efforts to fix that, nothing’s changed.
Coaching is the problem here. Celtic still can’t defend set-pieces and look awful in recovering possession from counter-attacks.
Midfield – still signs of life
David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro have been our best players this season, probably. That’s despite only emerging in December, which tells you just how far our fortunes have fallen.
Scott Brown remains a presence, albeit one with a reduced role. It’s probably about time; the number of peak Broony performances this season can be counted on one hand.
Callum McGregor is consistent as ever, while Ryan Christie has been alarmingly inconsistent. Youth options haven’t really seen any opportunities, with Kerr McInroy, Scott Robertson et al either on loan or nowhere near a starting berth.
Marseille fleeced us out of an extra potential €2m for Olivier Ntcham, who joins L’OM for the rest of the 20-21 campaign on loan with an option to buy. It’s a great move for the Frenchman, in truth. He has the potential to build his stock at a team who have underperformed this season. Their fans are raging, too [The Guardian].
On the wings, Celtic are lacking numbers. Approaches for Alfie Doughty, Bright Osayi-Samuel and Siriki Dembélé all came to nothing. Forrest’s ongoing injury woes, and Elyounoussi and Johnston’s niggling problems forced Lennon into a midfield diamond, which has actually worked a treat. In general, anyway.
Cameron Harper looks good value for more first-team action, while Karamoko Dembélé is entitled to ask why he’s not seen more game time.
Overall, though, the middle of the park is our strongest area. We only needed reinforcements out wide, and didn’t get them. That’s not a disaster, but it is a concern.
Forwards need opportunities in Celtic squad
There is total apathy, or in some cases anger, at Odsonne Edouard this season. I, for one, do not get it. He’s had 13 goal involvements in 17 games for the Bhoys [Transfermarkt], has scored in Europe and in the Scottish Cup Final, all while recovering from injuries and Covid-19.
Find me a striker in Europe facing the same circumstances with a better output than Edouard.
Next to him, mystery lies in the attacking end of the Celtic squad. We know that an on-form Griffiths and Edouard are our best options. Griff, however, has had his own fitness issues, some of which are supposedly self-inflicted [Daily Record]. He doesn’t get the same bluster and criticism that French Eddy does.
Albian Ajeti started the season hot, but has faded due to – yes! well done – injury issues and lack of game time. Patryk Klimala started the Glasgow Derby in October, but has barely had a sniff since then.
It’s a bit like the goalkeeping situation at the front end of Celtic’s squad. The only difference is that there’s one stand-out option up front for the Bhoys in Odsonne Edouard.
We’d be absolutely lost if the big Frenchman moved during the January window.
Overall: a squad that needed improvement
It doesn’t take a top analyst to know that the Celtic squad desperately needed strengthening in certain areas this season. In goals, nobody knows what to expect. And to be quite honest, the goalkeepers have had an incredibly hard job, facing far more shots than they should really expect to.
Even Oliver Kahn would feel self-doubt if he played for this Celtic team.
The Celtic recruitment team, by all appearances, weren’t on holiday this month. They might as well have been. They’ve had months, months to prepare, yet there’s only one incoming player. Jonjoe Kenny arrives because one of our brightest talents decided he’d had enough.
Do we have enough to finish second in the Scottish Premiership? Yes, of course.
But for all the transfer disappointment, it bears repeating that the vast majority of this squad had an excellent 19-20. The talent is there, and man-for-man, I don’t think we’re worse than Rangers on paper. On the pitch, it’s been a completely different story, and it’s not hard to see where the fault lies.
In today’s news: Celtic loan signing looks hungry for involvement at the club.