Celtic manager Neil Lennon has claimed that he wants a big year from Nir Bitton this season.
Bitton hasn’t been a consistent member of the first-team for a couple of years now. The Israeli is a fair bit down the pecking order, with the likes of Scott Brown, Callum McGregor, and Olivier Ntcham all ahead of him.
Of course, that hasn’t stopped Lennon from giving Bitton a chance at centre-back. It’s a position he’s used to, but not something Lennon expects to do often. Therefore, the Israeli is being encouraged by Lennon to step it up for a role in his midfield.
It was Lenny who of course brought Bitton to Celtic. And, speaking in the Scottish Sun about him, the Hoops manager said he wants a breakout campaign from the fringe man.
“I’m looking for a big season from Nir, no matter what position he plays. He’s had a very good pre-season after a bad injury. It was a concerted period out for him, ten months to a year. He played a few games for me last season, but he still had a little problem with his knee.
“Nir went away with Israel at the end of the season and has come back looking really good. We have now thrown down the challenge to him to step up and make an impact on the team. He has the game to do it.
“But I have been very pleased with him so far. Nir can play at the back, but it’s not ideal. Ideally, I’d like Bitton to play in midfield, but he showed his qualities in defence too.”
A big year for Nir could be difficult to pull off
Lenny is clearly trying to give his player a boost ahead of what will be a grueling season. Bitton, meanwhile, will definitely be a part of it in some way or another. Even despite his injury problems last season, he still played 10 games when he was fit.
But it all depends on what Lennon sees as a big year. After all, it’s difficult to see him breaking in ahead of Callum McGregor or Scott Brown. If Lennon gets Olivier Ntcham back in the right mental state too, he would also be above Bitton in the pecking order.
Lennon has already said that playing the Israeli internationalist at the back isn’t ideal. And he’s not wrong. Christopher Jullien, Kristoffer Ajer, Jozo Simunovic, and possibly Jack Hendry are all ahead of him in that area too. That’s not even taking into account another potential centre-back signing.
Bitton’s place in the team is difficult to find, but he will get his chances under Lennon this season if he stays injury free. Expecting him to make 40 or 50 appearances, however, should be out of reach if our players all perform to the standard we hope.
It will be interesting to see how the Israeli internationalist does under Lennon, however. He was reliable enough under Brendan Rodgers, but whether he can step it up a gear under his former manager remains to be seen.
In any case, the gauntlet has been thrown down to Bitton now.