As big seasons go, this is a big a one as Celtic have faced in a couple of generations – possibly ever, depending on how much the 10 means in the scheme of things and how you stack up the achievements of teams in eras so different they might as well be playing a different sport. One thing is for sure though, no matter the era or personnel – you’d want to get off to a solid start. Not necessarily a spectacular start but a solid one, Celtic’s season appeared to start off fine before veering wildly off course and now appearing to drift back towards some semblance of normality. It already feels like a lot has happened in what promises to be a season not quite like any other we’ve seen before.
The lack of fans makes for an eerie, not quite real spectacle where you can hear the bellows of the coaches and the yells of the players. Celtic, I would imagine, are one of those teams that draw from the noise and energy of the crowd and some early season games have had the feel of a development or training game which is not ideal in a season where every point is a prisoner. The draw at Kilmarnock was turgid but the Ferencvaros result was a disaster that threatened, briefly, to derail everything.
Celtic’s failures in Europe seem to be coming earlier every year. This year it was the second qualifying round, a worrying trend that the club will need to address at some point with a coherent long term plan which means we are not scrambling around for players, unprepared for what are the most valuable games of the season. Last year we had the Cluj debacle and, to be fair, the team performed very well in their Europa League group stage only to then limply bow out to a competent but eminently beatable Copenhagen side. Europa league qualification is now a must but it’s hard not to get a sense that Celtic are as far away from the Champions League as we have ever been.
The result was a disaster and the acrimony afterwards was worse, the manager appearing to throw down the challenge to some unnamed squad members to ‘put up or fuck up’ essentially. It was not a great look after a chastening defeat. He rolled back on that message over the next few days but this was an unwelcome return to ‘old Lennon’ snapping and not thinking, getting caught up in the moment. He’ll need to curb this and do better for the rest of the season. It might have happened early enough to be moved on from without causing any lasting divisions but again, it was all avoidable.
Self-imposed gunshot wounds are common enough in qualifiers at least by now. Domestically the start has been ok. Some score lines have flattered us a little and performances have been disjointed for the most part punctuated with periods of genuine exciting quality. We huffed and puffed for a lot of the Ross County match only to turn on the afterburners in the second half and played more like champions. It’s definitely not there yet but the performances are slowly coming together. Even on that stage we are fighting from behind, chasing games in hand thanks to the Bolingoli flight of fancy episode. Again, it’s not been ideal.
Thankfully the team is made of stern stuff and the manager has seen this all before, domestically we have continued to be fine and are on course to be top on goal difference once those games are made up. The arrival of Shane Duffy brings experience and the type of ‘no nonsense’ defending your dad loves and Barkas looks to be settling in and gaining confidence. It seems we’ll mostly by playing some variation of a 3 at the back system which also allows us for 2 up front and the prospect of an Eddy and Ajeti partnership is pretty exciting in spite of its infancy. This system also poses some questions about what, exactly, we plan to use our wingers for this season but for now I’m happy we are adding more ways to play. That versatility can only help, especially in Europe.
The Duffy arrival probably means Celtic can call it a window with the procurement of a left wing back and no significant departures. It’s still hard to know how good the team is this year just yet due to the stop-start nature but the games are going to come thick and fast now. St. Mirren are up next on Wednesday night and we’ll be playing two games a week for the next while. Let’s hope the team continues to gel and the season can get back on track. You’ll always have a wobble during a season like this, maybe it is no bad thing to get it out of the way early.
Eoin was born and raised in Dublin and studied print journalism back when that was a thing. Aside from blethering on about Celtic he can often be found at Richmond Park bemoaning another poor St. Pat’s performance. Once saw Tony Cascarino score a goal for Celtic. Temporary stand survivor.
Follow Eoin on Twitter @toomanybigwords
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