Welcome back, proper football. After what seemed like a lifetime of friendlies this past week, we’re back to playing competitive games. I’m pretty sure everyone’s glad to see the back of the pre-season friendlies. With a tour of Australia followed by matches against Cardiff, Swansea, Wolves and even a weekend in Dublin – it all got a bit boring. It’s good to see the return of the passion and determination that is seriously lacking in non-competitive football.
As I write this, I am still gutted about hearing the news on one of our key players following the win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie. Emilio Izaguirre suffered a fractured ankle which means that he will be out for the next 4-6 months and will undergo surgery later this week. All the best to him with his recovery. This is probably the best time to mention Henrik Larsson, and that after his leg break he came back an even stronger and better player than he was before – so here’s to Emilio doing the exact same thing. I have no worry over replacements, we have them – it’s just the quality that Emilio provides in every game and this was evident last season with his performances and the fact that he took home every award going for Best Player of the Year in May. It will be interesting to see who will come in and take Emilio’s place – we could see young Adam Matthews, and I’d be very happy with that. He impressed me a lot at Pittodrie, or Charlie Mulgrew who filled in after Emilio was stretchered off. It all comes down to who Neil Lennon thinks is capable, and I’d be confident with whoever that will be, after all – In Lennon We Trust.
Of course, Stokes saved us yet again with a goal in the 73rd minute when we saw some excellent play between him and Kris Commons. Quite a Xavi-esque cross from Commons I must say, especially after the game he was having. It’s worrying though, only being a goal up but Celtic held on and went home with three points. Judging by last season and how we banged in twenty one goals against Aberdeen, it was probably our toughest match against them in recent times. Interestingly, the statistics once again showed us to be the dominant team throughout the game. We finished with over 60% possession, had twenty five attempts on goal compared to Aberdeen’s six and we also committed less fouls. Again, I agreed with Neil Lennon in his post-match interview when he said we should have scored more goals. If a neutral football fan was looking at those statistics, they’d have guessed that there had been more than one score in it. All in all, I’m glad we got the three points we came to Pittodrie for but we still need to improve our game a lot. It might only have been the second game of the domestic season, but Anthony Stokes once again showed that he has the strength and skill to come up with goals when needed. I’m hoping that this season, Neil Lennon will seriously think about playing him against Rangers – he deserves it and I think every Celtic supporter would like to see Stokes line up against them.
Even though his quality will be missed, I have no doubt that we do have replacements for Izaguirre. Adam Matthews’ making his SPL debut taking the place of an injured Mark Wilson proved he has the pace and ability so I’d like to see him take Izaguirre’s place at left-back when Wilson comes back from injury. There is also the case of Charlie Mulgrew, who personally I think is better at centre-back than any other position. He can also fill in that same spot. Judging by the Celtic defence at Pittodrie, I reckon Lennon should drop Majstorovic and put Mulgrew in his place. In my own view, watching Majstorovic was painful at some points. He’s slow and ineffective in the air. I’d like to see the back four of Matthews, K. Wilson, Mulgrew and M. Wilson next week (depending on whether M. Wilson has recovered from his injury). There was a moment during the game against Aberdeen, when Aberdeen hit a long ball up the park towards one of the frontman – Majstorovic was on it but hesitated before doing anything – it was a simple clearance, yet he made it look more than that. He eventually dealt with it but the defence is something that Neil Lennon must think long and hard about especially before the 18th August when we welcome FC Sion to Celtic Park for the first leg of the Europa League play-off round.
There has been rumours going around (no surprise there, it’s the summer transfer window) – and I saw today that we’re being linked with David Bentley from Tottenham Hotspur which not only do I find incredibly random but also pointless. We don’t need another winger – our midfield is the strongest area in the squad. Celtic has Kayal, Ledley, Brown, Ki, Commons, Forrest and McCourt all challenging for a place – I think we’re sorted in that department. It’s going to be a tough decision for Lennon next weekend when we face Dundee United because Scott Brown is back from suspension which means someone will have to drop to the bench to make way. I just think that Brown will go straight back into the team, and I have a feeling that Ki might be dropped which is a huge shame because he’s been excellent recently. Brown does bring something to that midfield though that we were lacking today, and I also think he brings out the best in Kayal too. Another funny rumour I heard this week was Joey Barton which Neil Lennon squashed a day later stating he’d have to ‘remortage the club’ to bring Joey in. In my own opinion, I think Celtic need another defender and maybe a striker but more importantly, a goalkeeper.
Now we come to the goalkeeper situation – as much as I would like Zaluska to play well and be Celtic’s number one, I think it comes as no surprise that he more than likely won’t be. Our other goalkeeper, Dominic Cervi, he’s young and has time to improve but personally I feel he is not strong enough this season either. There is no denying that the goalkeeper search is very much public and that heaps more pressure onto Zaluska. Even though he has kept two clean sheets in both SPL matches so far, it still looks like he won’t be first choice. To be honest, I thought Stipe Pletikosa would be offered a deal but as he was let go just as fast, I’d like to think Lennon has someone lined up. Neil Lennon stated in his post-match conference following the 5-0 win over the League of Ireland XI in the Dublin Super Cup that they had goalkeeper options. “I can’t give you any more at the minute. We are no further down the line than we were at the weekend.” As a Celtic fan, I’d like to see the keeper situation get resolved as soon as possible. There has been talk of Polish goalkeeper, Grzegorz Sandomierski, the 21-year-old who Lennon says has huge potential and is a keeper who the club are very interested in. Even though the player’s agent said the Polish club had rejected Celtic’s offer, Lennon claims they are making progress with the bid. I’ve never heard of this goalkeeper until his name was linked with Celtic this week but Lennon and the scouting team seem to know what they’re doing judging by the fact that last summer they signed two unknown players named Beram Kayal and Emilio Izaguirre.
It will be interesting to see what happens with Celtic in the remaining weeks of the summer transfer window, especially after Emilio’s injury which sidelines him for the next 4-6 months. Neil Lennon did state in his post-match conference after Pittodrie that this would probably mean Celtic would be looking for a new left-back. As I’ve said before, I think Adam Matthews would be a contender for this role. There was also talk of Celtic possibly bringing in another striker during the transfer window as well which I wouldn’t mind but a goalkeeper and maybe another defender would be the priority. I just hope Celtic deal with this quickly seeing as we have European play-offs coming up and we don’t want to be changing around our back four every game – we need a good solid back four sorted and ready to go before Sion come calling on August 18th.
Other than that, we are sitting second in the table behind Motherwell following their win over Hearts at Fir Park Stadium. It might be early days and only two games later but seeing Rangers in sixth place does make me smile. A lot.