The 3 non-negotiables Celtic must do before UCL qualifiers
Celtic are closing in on the UEFA Champions League qualifiers at a scarily rapid pace.
We’re now over four weeks since our final game of the season came to an end. Our 0-0 draw at Hibernian took place on May 15, a full 29 days ago. Fast forward another 29 days from now, and the Hoops will only be eight or nine days from their first qualifier. Celtic’s second qualifying round, the round in which we’ll enter, will take place on either July 20th/21st.
The first step of the rebuild is complete. Ange Postecoglou has become the new manager. The next step will be getting his backroom staff and place and hopefully the progression of our Director of Football hunt. Granted, things have gone quiet on the latter.
All this needs done ASAP however, as the biggest job of the summer is actually our player overhaul. The manager could need as many as 13 players in the doors to have the correct level of depth. But as Celtic get set to enter the UCL at the second qualifying round phase, we take a look at the three biggest priority positions that nee strengthened before then:
Every year it feels like we’re discussing the same thing. With the exception of last summer, there’s constant concern regarding the right-back position.
How many times have we had to bring centre-backs over to cover in that area during the early part of the season? Kris Ajer has always been one for doing that job. But chances are he’ll be off before the UCL qualifiers even begin. And, as things stand, we have absolutely no reliable senior right-back in the squad.
Jonjoe Kenny departed the club after his loan spell came to an end. Hatem Elhamed and Jeremie Frimpong, both at the club last summer, also left in January. Outside of Anthony Ralston, who simply can’t be considered, we have no senior right-backs available.
Lee O’Connor will return and has a superb chance to impress Postecoglou. But throwing him into the first UCL qualifier? No thanks. Celtic need to bring an experienced full-back in immediately. Failure to do so will see us badly caught out down the right flank, especially as the qualifiers roll on.
We face the same issue here. Like Ajer at right-back, how often have we had to deal with Nir Bitton coming in at centre-back? It’s incredible how unprepared Celtic have been for these crucial European fixtures over the years.
This year represents a major challenge at the back too. Ajer, as mentioned previously, is likely to depart. If he doesn’t, we should be aiming to have wantaway players nowhere near the team regardless. Shane Duffy has already left whilst Chris Jullien won’t be fit by then.
That leaves Celtic with a potential centre-back partnership of Stephen Welsh and Bitton. Not looking to knock either man, but we need better. Especially for some of the biggest games of our season. Welsh wouldn’t bother me as much, but Bitton must be replaced by an experienced partner.
Preferably, Celtic go out and bag a centre-back with strong aerial dominance. Too often in these qualifiers are the Hoops done in by cross-balls that we’ve failed to clear. We need a more no-nonsense approach to our defensive play in Europe this year. Bitton and Welsh don’t necessarily give you that.
As things stand, we’re due to head into these games with two fit and available central defenders. There’s no excuses, that can’t stay the same.
By all accounts, Odsonne Edouard is close to moving to Leicester City. A report has claimed that Celtic and the EPL club are still looking to come to an agreement. However, it’s hopeful one will be reached [Daily Record].
If he does go, he’ll join Patryk Klimala in leaving the club’s striking department. Leigh Griffiths has also yet to be given a new deal at Parkhead, meaning he’s effectively a free agent.
Only Albian Ajeti would currently remain as a senior striker who’s actually scheduled to be here for the qualifiers. A striker who only bagged six goals last term [Transfermarkt].
It goes without saying, we need signings in this area and fast. We would be taking a monumental gamble in playing Edouard in any of these fixtures. With a potential move coming up, his first thought could easily be not to pick up an injury. We need players who are all-in for these qualifiers. Nothing less. And we can hardly guarantee that with the Frenchman.
Celtic need to have his replacement in the door and preferably having been with the squad for a few weeks beforehand. If we could bring two in? Even better. Granted, it’s important we temper expectations.
These are the three areas Celtic simply must strengthen in before the UCL qualifiers. Failure to complete even one of these tasks and we can likely forget about qualification.