It’ll go under the radar, but Celtic’s defensive form has been impressive in recent weeks.
Off the bat, it’s important to mention that Celtic were woeful against St Mirren. Their abject display was a throwback not just to last season, but to the Ronny Deila days.
Brendan Rodgers’ side were bullied in most 50-50s, beaten for energy and pace, and generally outfought. It was a shameful performance that wasn’t on the cards after the terrific display against Rangers.
It feels like the campaign is already going to be a tough slog if performances like Friday night are going to be repeated. We saw displays like that all too often last term and somehow won the league fairly comfortably. That won’t be the same this season if Celtic continue to operate in that fashion.
But one of the huge talking points before the end of the transfer window has massively healed – the defence.
Yes, it could be better, and yes it will concede goals in the Europa League. But domestically, Celtic appear to have plugged the holes in the back quite nicely. There’s only one reason this is the case, and it’s Dedryck Boyata.
MORE CELTIC STORIES
The Belgian boulder
The Belgian centre-back’s saga regarding a refusal to play was a disgrace. Most supporters at the beginning of the season would’ve been happy to let the former Manchester City man go. Many regarded him as not as big a player as he believed he was. Unfortunately, if Boyata did believe he was of vital importance to Celtic, then he was correct.
His displays since returning have been commanding, and it’s what Celtic were missing in the early part of the season. Against AEK Athens and Suduva during European qualification rounds, the Hoops lost some terrible goals. You feel that if Boyata was available during those periods, Celtic would maybe be in the Champions League instead of the Europa.
Jack Hendry hasn’t be a suitable replacement for Boyata, whilst Filip Benkovic is only just in the door. The latter looked fine in his debut against St Mirren, but Mikael Lustig returning on Thursday night is a must.
It’s evident that Celtic’s best partnership is Boyata and Kristoffer Ajer. The experiment of Norwegian Ajer at right-back on Friday night can’t continue.
As it stands, however, Celtic are now flying at the back. Four consecutive clean sheets heading into the Europa League is a morale-booster for Boyata and the rest of the defence.
St Mirren had one or two moments of joy from the wide areas, but centrally Boyata continues to be a huge rock.
How long this run goes on for will be interesting, but for a defence that’s consistently criticised, it’s been looking sharp in recent outings.