Celtic hosted Rosenborg last night in the Champions League qualifiers in what at this point…
With five competitive games played already, Celtic look set to hit the ground running in this season’s Scottish Premiership as they aim to win their eighth consecutive title. It’s been so far, so good for Brendan Rodgers’ side, having won all three of their Champions League qualifiers. The only time they’ve been behind in any of those games – and the only time they’ve conceded, for that matter – was against Rosenborg, where the Hoops displayed a resoluteness that’s been notably absent in many previous European encounters.
Coming off the back of another treble, Rodgers’ mission this season, domestically at least, is simple: repeat the feat and pick up nine trophies in just three years. Europe is an altogether different matter, but we’ll go into that in more detail later. For now, we’re going to focus on where the Hoops can look to improve upon last seasons results.
It didn’t really, to be perfectly honest. Rodgers led his team to a second consecutive treble, an unprecedented feat in Scottish football. But while the record books will note Celtic’s dominance last season, there’s no denying that performances have slipped compared to Rodgers’ debut season. Celtic still won the league, but did so in a considerably less impressive manner.
The table above highlights the drop off in performances for the champions last season compared to the previous campaign. Celtic finished 24 points worse off last season, scoring 33 fewer goals but maintaining their defensive record of 25 goals conceded. They lost four games and drew 10, compared to losing none and drawing four the previous year. Their expected goals (xG) dropped by around 23, indicating that the Hoops weren’t fashioning as many clear opportunities for themselves as they did the previous year. Celtic ultimately won the league by nine points but given the vastly superior resources available to Rodgers, it isn’t unreasonable to suggest that the Premiership could have been won a little more comfortably.
Celtic fans’ biggest gripe with last season would likely be with their performances in Europe, where there is certainly room for improvement. Rodgers deserves credit for navigating the Hoops through the qualifying rounds for two successive seasons, but Celtic will surely be looking to do better this time around. Last season, an unfortunate draw pitted them against Bayern Munich, PSG and Anderlecht. The champions put in decent performances against Bayern but were battered off PSG on both occasions and lost at home to Anderlecht. Celtic haven’t won a home Champions League group game since a 2-1 win over Ajax in 2013 – Rodgers must address this worrying statistic.
It’s been a fairly low-key transfer window in Glasgow’s East End, although the club did break their transfer record when they signed Odsonne Edouard on a permanent deal. With a year’s experience under his belt at Celtic Park, Edouard will be expected to chip in with more goals as Celtic look to assert their dominance over their rivals once more. This could be bad news for Leigh Griffiths, who now appears to be Rodgers’ third-choice striker, but one thing’s for sure: between Edouard, Griffiths and Mousa Dembele, Celtic have plenty of prolific options to choose from in attack.
Lewis Morgan has put in some promising performances during Celtic’s pre-season friendlies and made his debut for the Hoops away to Alashkert. The 21-year-old has been named on the bench in each of the team’s three Champions League qualifiers and looks like he will in fact feature for Celtic fairly prominently this season. If Morgan can rediscover his form at St Mirren, then Scott Sinclair’s place in the first team could be seriously under threat.
Scott Bain also signed a permanent contract after impressing on loan during the second half of last season and will provide competition for 35-year-old Craig Gordon, but Gordon will likely hold on to the number one jersey for big matches for the foreseeable future. Elsewhere, Ryan Christie is back from Aberdeen and Tony Ralston has returned from his loan at Dundee United but could find first team minutes hard to come by, particularly with Rodgers putting his faith in James Forrest at right wing back more regularly.
Celtic are still trying to complete the signing of John McGinn but with Hibernian holding out for a higher fee, it’s still unclear whether the Scotland international will ultimately seal a move to Glasgow. All in all though, there are no obvious holes that need filling in this Celtic squad – a couple of new faces might freshen things up a bit, but they’re not an absolute requirement.
Stuart Armstrong became the latest player to take the well-travelled road from Celtic Park to Southampton when the English Premier League side offered Celtic £7 million for the midfielder’s services. In truth, it was probably a good deal for all parties concerned; Southampton got their man, Armstrong got his big money move while Celtic made a tidy profit on a player who was slipping down the pecking order under Rodgers.
Patrick Roberts and Charlie Musonda returned to Manchester City and Chelsea respectively, with the former’s departure more likely to be felt than the latter’s, although both failed to impress during the 2017/18 campaign. The two wingers are likely to have their places taken in Rodgers’ squad by Morgan and Christie, with the two young midfielders keen to make an impact after spells away from the club.
Keeping Dedryck Boyata at the club will be matter of urgency for Rodgers, with the Belgian defender not short of potential suitors monitoring his development in Glasgow. Last year, he was arguably one of the best defenders in the country and only an irresistible fee is likely to be enough to convince the Celtic board to part with the Belgium international. Boyata could yet leave Celtic before the window shuts – his presence would be sorely missed in the Celtic defence.
Celtic are clear favourites to win the Premiership once again this season and will look to do so in a more convincing manner than the 2017/18 campaign. Keeping Steven Gerrard’s Rangers at arm’s length will be a matter of top priority for Rodgers but the Northern Irishman will also have to keep an eye on Aberdeen and Hibs, who could cause problems for Celtic domestically.
Celtic fans will be hoping for and expecting another treble although if this isn’t achieved, it’s unlikely there will be too much of an outcry. The league is the most important competition for fans and barring major catastrophe, the trophy should end up back in Glasgow’s East End by the end of the season.
More will be expected of Rodgers in Europe, however. Question marks still remain over the 45-year-old’s ability to grind out results against superior opposition and, assuming that Celtic qualify for the group stages, Celtic will be looking to make more of an impression once they’re there. The draw will undoubtedly be difficult for Celtic, but a third place finish and a spot in the last 32 of the Europa League shouldn’t be an impossible ask. The Hoops managed it last year: repeating the feat and progressing beyond the first knockout round is a sensible and realistic ambition for the club this season .