Why Celtic have an early league advantage over rivals

By Dave Flanigan

July 28, 2022

What a difference a year makes.

This time last year, Celtic were preparing for a second-leg Champions League qualifiers against Midtjylland having drawn the first leg 1-1, Ange Postecoglou’s first competitive game in charge.

Celtic would lose the game in Denmark 2-1 in extra time, eventually qualifying for the Europa League group stages with wins against Jablonec and AZ Alkmaar in a hectic first few months in charge for the Australian as Celtic faltered early in the Scottish Premiership, losing their first three away matches.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

With guaranteed Champions League group stage football and thus no European qualifiers, Celtic will have free mid-weeks until visiting Dingwall to face Ross County in the Premier Sports Cup on the 31st of August, with their city rivals due for as many as four extra games in that time with qualifying matches of their own.

Celtic have had to adapt to hectic fixture schedules in recent seasons, with the League Cup moving to the winter, and as many as eight qualifiers in the summer, leaving the pre-Christmas fixture list fit to burst, with little free day training days or downtime.

The lighter schedule this time round has granted Postecoglou more time to drill his players tactically – Joe Hart has played noticeably higher in Celtic’s pre-season matches this season, an adjustment that likely would not have been possible without significant work on the training pitch.

Additionally, Celtic’s recruitment has largely been focused on supplementing the squad rather than improving the starting eleven that was available to Postecoglou last season, Celtic have an almost entirely settled side and will go into the new season with largely the same starting eleven that finished the last.

There’s something to be said for continuity, a luxury that their city rivals won’t have with a raft of summer recruits ahead of their crunch Champions League qualifiers beginning next week.

A stark contrast to this time last year

When Postecoglou arrived last season, Celtic were in disarray, with many of the first team squad on the move and only Liam Shaw and Osaze Urhoghide signed for the new season.

With so many first-team players on the move, there was little time for new signings to adjust or be brought up to speed, and with many being forced to adapt to playing two games a week immediately.

As such, Carl Starfelt had a difficult debut at Tynecastle after essentially being thrown in out of necessity, with 18 year old Dane Murray playing the Champions League qualifiers against Midtjylland in the absence of Christopher Jullien through injury.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Celtic have no such issues this year, the likes of Alexandro Bernabei can be eased in to the fold, allowing time for him to settle off the pitch as well as on. There’s no immediate pressure for Aaron Mooy to play whilst he works his way to full fitness following a year with very little club football.

It’s a testament to both Postecoglou and a manager and the Celtic squad that they were able to achieve what they did last season with such little preparation and such a poor start.

Here’s hoping this season is one to be built on rather than made up for.

In other news: Report quickly shuts down fresh Celtic transfer speculation