That was not the start Celtic fans had in mind. Exiting the Champions League qualifiers unceremoniously to Malmo, before losing 2-1 to Aberdeen, falling five points behind their conquerors in the Scottish Premiership table.
Moreover, they lost their best player, Virgil van Dijk, to Southampton (albeit for a lovely sum of £11m). This just was not the start that was expected of the club.
Just when it looked like we were about to progress and push on following a first leg victory against Malmo, once again Ronny Deila’s Bhoys have made life difficult for themselves for the second season running. It could have the beginnings of an ugly streak, but one should not worry too much – this league is Celtic’s monopoly to lose and not for any other teams to win.
Aberdeen and Hearts could be considered possible contenders at this early stage. Both sides are unbeaten at home with the Dons remarkably winning all of their seven league games so far this season. Celtic should welcome this new found competition while it lasts, because this is purely a scenario of form is temporary, but class is permanent. Glasgow’s premier side is class, the other two contenders are merely on form.
That is not to discredit the reputation of these clubs and the good players that make up their starting XI, but it is not hard to imagine how this season will only mirror what happened last season.
It was this time last year that Celtic were struggling with not just European competition, but with domestically too. Again, this was not expected and everybody from the media to the fans expected us to breeze past the competition until Rangers eventually revitalise their club enough to mount a serious challenge to our throne. This was an arrogant train of thought.
And it was also this time last year that certain sections of the club’s fandom (including myself) had called for the manager’s head and for the club to increasing spending. The former wore off as Deila’s became a fan favourite with the “Ronny Roar,” while the club loosened up the purse strings in the January transfer window.
This is what proved decisive for Celtic. They eliminated the competition by buying up two of Dundee United’s strongest players in Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven. (They have dented United’s chances further this season by taking on Nadir Ciftci.)
To put it simply, Celtic executed the ancient wisdom of divide and conquer to arguably one of their closest rivals in the division. Therefore it would not be surprising to see the club employ the very same tactic in the next transfer window. After all, Celtic do need some bolstering when it comes to talent both at the back and up front, and they have the money from the Van Dijk sale to boost their squad.
Jozo Simunovic was pretty solid in his debut against Ajax in the Europa League and given time, one can expect a solid partnership with the once promising Dedryck Boyata (his potential was laid waste by Manchester City’s excessive spending capabilities.) If they both live up to their potential then Celtic will feel more comfortable about their defensive issues – which have been exposed ever since the Malmo game.
Furthermore, if Ciftci does live up to the hype (some people in the media did compare his signing to the equivalent of signing Henrik Larsson – the only two things they have in common is a) they both cost less than £1 million and b) they wear/wore the number seven), then that should ease the pressure on Leigh Griffiths to be the chief goalscorer on a weekly basis.
Essentially, it is the same sort of issues in regards to mentality that affected Celtic last season, whereby certain elements of their game were slow to click. However, once we did click, we climbed back up the league and finished the season in a dominant fashion.
Of course this is all “ifs and buts”. Celtic still need to improve first before they really can think they will win the title with relative ease. Furthermore, the Bhoys should welcome the injection of fresh competition, it will improve the mental fortitude of the team. And with this, the club should eventually rise up, just like last season.