Review of last season – It is more difficult than you think to try and review Celtic. The reason is simple. What do Celtic see as success? They won their third league title in a row with 99 points and only one defeat. They scored 102 league goals and at times were pretty much unplayable. They won the league earlier than anyone had since 1929. Yet winning the league is pretty much a given for Celtic so you need to look towards Europe and domestic trophies to really measure how successful Celtic were last year. Domestically they faltered badly by being knocked out of the League Cup in the 3rd round by Greenock Morton and in the Scottish Cup they fell in the fifth round at home to Aberdeen. Qualification for the Champions League group stage was a big plus for Celtic but they finished bottom of a group containing Ajax, Barcelona and Milan. Without a doubt the big news for the club from last season was the departure of Neil Lennon, leaving the club following four successful years in charge.
Manager in – Ronny Deila (Stromsgodset)
Players in – Craig Gordon (Goalkeeper, unattached)
Players out – Georgios Samaras (Free), Lewis Kidd (Queen of the South), Michael Miller (Greenock Morton), Patrik Twardzik (Free), Patrick McNally (Free), Jack Kirwan (Free), Steven Mouyokolo (Free)
What they still need – It is difficult to judge what Celtic might need for the season ahead for two reasons. Firstly Ronny Deila will want to take stock of the squad and decide the system he wants to play. So only then will it become clear the type of players he might need. Secondly it is a challenge for Celtic to identify players that will be a success both in Scotland and in Europe. They have plenty of players who can win them the league but trying to find players who will be a success in Europe is different. Celtic may also still have to replace certain players with Forster and Van Dijk in particular being linked with moves away. A striker must be high on the list of targets though. Samaras needs replaced and if Celtic want to make an impact in Europe they will need a top quality forward to provide them with the goals. Left-back is also an issue as Emilio Izaguirre has had no real competition for his place for some time now. Some genuine width in the midfield wouldn’t go a miss either.
Expectations this season – With a new manager there is always a period of adjustment. The problem for Ronny Deila is that with a club the size of Celtic the adjustment period cannot be a long one. He will be expected to win the league and at least one domestic trophy whilst qualifying for the group stage of the Champions League is a goal that the Celtic fans and board will be desperate for. Deila will also be expected to get Celtic playing attractive football, something he has promised to do. You need to win as Celtic manager but you also need to win well.
Key player – For me the key to Celtic is Scott Brown. I know he divides opinion at times but with the club starting a new era with a very young manager it will be vital that the club captain helps with the transition into the Deila regime. If he can stay clear of injuries he will be the man to hold everything together for Celtic in the middle of the park and also off the field.
Young player to look out for – One criticism sometimes aimed at Celtic is the lack of young Scottish players that constantly make the grade. We have flashes of the odd player coming through like James Forrest but there is never a collection of youngsters that come through together and stay in the team. Deila has promised to ensure that young players are given a chance and that youth is the future of Celtic. Fans will be pleased to hear this and as a Scottish football fan so am I. One young player that I think can have a breakthrough year is Dylan McGeouch. He spent some of last season on loan at Coventry City and has returned to Celtic for what will be a very important year for him. I think if he is given the chance he can do well and he has been given some game time in pre-season which suggests that maybe the new manager is prepared to give him an opportunity.
Opinion on Celtic – It is certain that Celtic will win the league as long as Deila manages to avoid an absolute catastrophe. So the challenge for Celtic must be to bring on some of their younger players whilst making sure they are achieving domestically and progressing in Europe. I would suggest that Celtic might actually benefit from a run in the Europa League this year if they fail to make it past the groups in the Champions League. Although the Europa League is sometimes scoffed at they have the squad to possibly go reasonably far in that competition. Celtic must also make sure they make their mind up on a few fringe players that have yet to establish themselves. It will be a very big year for players like Nir Biton, Tom Rogic, Amido Balde, Derk Boerrigter and Teemu Pukki.
Prediction for this season – 1st place….a pretty bold prediction.