Shane Duffy and Kris Ajer could save Celtic millions if performance levels remain high

By David Walton

December 15, 2020

As we get closer and closer to the January transfer window, two positions were perhaps a priority as recently as a week ago.

With Hatem Elhamed reportedly wanting out, it was said that Celtic were looking for a new right-back in order to allow him to go back to Israel (Scottish Sun).

In addition to that, Celtic tried to fill their centre-back void in the summer with the arrival of Shane Duffy. It didn’t work out after the first few months and it looked as though that void was about to open up again. Celtic had conceded 22 goals in games Duffy was involved in heading into last week.

However, Neil Lennon made the tweaks necessary. Ajer was moved out to right-back for games against Lille and Kilmarnock whilst Duffy was thrown back into the mix after several weeks out of the starting lineup.

Both men were terrific in both of those games. Ajer set-up the winner against Lille and didn’t make any errors against either the Ligue 1 league-leaders or against Killie. Duffy, meanwhile, dominated the likes of Jonathan David and Jonathan Ikone, before dealing with Killie’s powerful forward Nicke Kabamba impressively.

All of a sudden we’re left re-evaluating what needs done in January. The big question marks now are hovered over whether we actually may even need a new right-back or centre-back – neither of which will come cheap in the new year.

For example, if Duffy starts performing to a high level alongside Christopher Jullien, perhaps Philadephia Union centre-back Mark McKenzie wouldn’t be the priority he once was (although personally I would still love to see us sign him too!).

Have Celtic found solutions from within?

And if we’re looking for a replacement for Elhamed in order to allow him to leave, maybe Ajer could fill that gap. Perhaps he could play there and allow Jeremie Frimpong to play further up the pitch and focus on the positives of his game.

Of course, these aren’t decisions that can be made prematurely. It’s still essential we make the best decisions possible given January represents our last chance to strengthen in our bid to secure 10-in-a-row.

And that’s what makes the rest of December and January so important. We have so many different types of games coming up that will give Neil Lennon the opportunity to see whether Duffy can perform consistently from here on in and whether Ajer can adapt to the new position regularly.

Kristoffer Ajer impresses at right-back for Celtic vs Lille / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Celtic have a Scottish Cup final against Hearts coming up as well as routine looking league fixtures against Ross County, Hamilton, and Dundee United respectively. After all of those, we’ll have a mammoth clash at Ibrox which is most certainly a must-win.

All of these fixtures represent the range of challenges we’ll have between now and the end of the season. It’ll show whether Ajer and Duffy can truly save the club millions in January, or whether we’ll have to delve into a notoriously tricky window to bolster two key positions further.

Here’s hoping it’s the former, we could certainly do with them raising their performance levels.

In other words, Ann Budge has gone to a “considerable expense” to ensure Hearts are well prepared for Sunday.