In fairness, there was never going to be a reasonable excuse for the way Celtic performed against Rangers yesterday, but Neil Lennon’s touching on the missing players really did take the biscuit.
Granted, we went into the game with our fair share of knocks. Odsonne Edouard wasn’t ready after having to self-isolate in the run-up to the game, whilst Ryan Christie is still in self-isolation. Nir Bitton and Hatem Elhamed picked up Covid whilst on international duty too.
That’s not even mentioning the fact that we had James Forrest injured whilst Christopher Jullien dropped out of the squad with a knock. It’s a heck of a list of talent to rhyme off.
But there was another fine list of talent sung out by the Rangers manager yesterday in his post-match comments – the team Celtic put out. As quoted by the Glasgow Times, Gerrard said: “Celtic are throwing quality players at us all the way through the game – (David) Turnbull, £3.5m, (Patryk) Klimala, £3.5m, (Albian) Ajeti, £5m, their keeper (Vasilis Barkas) is worth £5m. We haven’t played a Celtic team with issues, we have beat a strong Celtic team.”
The Rangers boss listed off £17m worth of first-team talent there. So what did Lennon say after the game about the build-up? When asked by Celtic TV post-match about the difference the changes made to the performance level, he said the following:
“It’s huge. You don’t want to play too much on that and look for excuses, but you’ve got three strikers in Ajeti, Griffiths, Edouard who aren’t available to start the game.
“You’ve got Forrest out. You’ve got Jullien out. You’ve got Bitton out and you’ve got Elhamed out. So we missed a lot of quality today. But we still had a good team out there and I think we should’ve done better.
“The subs didn’t really have the impact we were looking for.”
Shouldn’t even be mentioned
This shouldn’t even be touched on by Lennon, because he’s missing a key note from his team-sheet yesterday that he’s failed to pick up on.
Every single one of his six summer signings were involved in the game to some extent. The players that were missing? Not one of them was signed by the manager over the last few months
Now, the point of the summer transfer window, which many of us will agree was a good one, was to bolster areas that needed bolstering. It was to ensure that we could deal with one or two set-backs in a certain area.
Shane Duffy, Diego Laxalt, Mohamed Elyounoussi, and Vasilis Barkas all started the game. David Turnbull and Albian Ajeti came on from the bench in the second half. So these players that were brought in to improve the team all played in the defeat to Rangers yesterday.
In total we missed one striker, one attacking midfielder, one winger, one right-back, and two centre-backs. Surely we have the squad depth to be able to cope with those kinds of hits to the squad? Especially considering it was several areas that were affected and not one or two which were severely damaged.
Many of us will believe that we do, but Lennon’s insistence that missing a few causes a “huge” difference to our set-up is a massive concern. He’s effectively turning around and admitting that the players he signed in the summer aren’t as capable of producing on this stage as the ones who were missing.
But Gerrard brought up the fact that several players in our squad yesterday added up to £17m in transfer fees. Don’t tell us we needed extra quality on the pitch to beat Rangers yesterday. For the money spent, we should be entitled to think that our manager can coach a better performance out of them than what we saw on the pitch.
It’s a result that continues to frustrate, but Lennon continues to do himself no favours with some of his post-match comments. The club needs a boost and quickly. Let’s see if that can be produced against AC Milan on Thursday.