Is there trouble in Paradise? On paper it would seem that things at Celtic Park haven’t been going according to plan these last few weeks. Brendan Rodgers’ side started the competitive season in good form, failing to lose a single match and also keeping a solid record in defence, conceding a mere 4 goals in their previous 9 games.
A Tough Week of Results
After Wednesday’s disappointing 1-1 draw against AEK Athens in their Champions League qualifier, Celtic knew that in order to progress through they’d have to up their game- obviously. But that didn’t mean that they should let the Premiership match against Hearts throw them off their game, on the contrary, it should have served as a pseudo-training session to prepare them for the Greeks. In a way, AEK and Hearts don’t differ that much: they both like to defend and prefer to sit back and allow their opponents- in this case Celtic- to play and hold the possession.
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When Saturday came, the risk Brendan Rodgers’ was about to take didn’t end up working for him. The Northern Irishman made 5 changes to his starting XI that he fielded against Athens, a move that was bold, to say the least, seeing as out of the 5 players he dropped, 4 of them are essential to he team. Leaving out James Forrest, Olivier Ntcham, Tom Rogić and star-striker Odsonne Édouard was strange but understandable. It was hardly worth risking their best players on a league match so as to try and beat Hearts, but it proved to be the wrong move nonetheless.
Hearts ended up narrowly beating the champions 1-0 at Tynecastle in a tight-knit game that saw the Jambos hit Celtic were it hurts for the second time in a year. The Edinburgh side’s main achievement last year was beating Celtic 4-0 at home in a game that ultimately ended the Hoops’ unbeaten run that lasted 69 game. The match was a very physical one, and manager Craig Levein lured Rodgers’ into his trap, and Celtic got caught up in it. Levein also had his players- mainly his front line- to put pressure on Celtic’s defence and their goalkeeper Craig Gordon to force them to play long balls for the duration of the game and deny them any chance of playing from the back. The champions tried in vain to reach their opponents’ box, rarely catching a chance to take a shot.
Hearts continued to batter Celtic players from left, right & centre and three yellow cards were shown to Kyle Lafferty, Jake Mulraney and Benjamin Garuccio in the first half. Lafferty’s card was the most controversial of them all, with many believing that he should have been sent off after going studs-up in a challenge against Mikael Lustig. As the second half wore on, it turned out that Lafferty was Hearts’ saviour after he connected beautifully with Uche Ikpeazu’s cross, smashing the ball into the back of the net with a low-placed volley in a attack that started from a defensive mistake from Jozo Šimunović. This would end up being the only goal of the match and it handed Celtic their first defeat of the season as the pressure of being knocked out of Europe edges closer.
— Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) August 11, 2018
The Main Problems
Celtic’s main problem- especially in European games- is their defence, specifically their centre-halves. Jozo Šimunović, Kristoffer Ajer and Jack Hendry are all under the age of 24 and they’ve yet to retain proper experience on Europe’s biggest stage. Another problem the club faces is the battle with its board members, or to put it another way, where the money is. With the sale of Stuart Armstrong for £9 million and the slice of money they got from Liverpool when Virgil van Dijk was sold to the Reds it’s no secret that the club has the cash to spend- so much so that they invested £4 million into installing new lights at Celtic Park. The fans’ frustration stems from the board’s stubbornness to spend on players they clearly need, and failure to do so will see the Glasgow club crash out of Europe in an embarrassing way against Athens, or if they managed to make it to the champions League group stages we could see a repeat of last year’s performances- which weren’t exactly good.
It’s still too early in the season to claim that Celtic are in trouble, because a full season is a marathon- not a 100m dash. Despite this, Celtic would do well to bring in some much-needed reinforcements to compete against all teams in all competitions. Rodgers’ has already come out in public to address the club’s transfer policy. The manager has already expressed his frustration over losing out on signing John McGinn, and rumours suggest that Daniel Arzani will be loaned to them after the Australian international has just signed for Manchester City.
The manager has also expressed his feelings on the rumours that he will leave the club over this whole debacle- but he quietly shut them down, stating that he’s “got three years left” on his contract and that he “loves his life at Celtic”, going so far as to say that “there’s still improvements (to be made) in the squad” and that he “can’t go on about players he wants in”.
All in all, there is no real trouble in Paradise, but Rodgers’ and his team, as well as the board, will have to work twice as hard to make sure that they don’t get caught in a situation again this season in what has arguably been their most complicated week this year.
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