As 2016 draws to a close talk of the January transfer window will naturally start to increase; who will Celtic sign, who will they let leave the club? It’s a fun time of year reading who the papers will have us linked to or which or our star players they look to unsettle with potential moves away from the club. So, in a time honoured tradition of this blog, I’m going to jump on that bandwagon before it’s even properly set in motion with a pre-transfer window review of the squads performance so far this season; who should stay, who should leave, and where do we need strengthening? Read on to find out my thoughts and please feel free to comment and leave your own.
Celtic currently have four keepers listed in the first team squad, Gordon, DeVries, Bailly and Fasan, however, it looks unlikely that either of the latter two will have much game time to look forward to in the near future.
After a rocky spell during which he was dropped from the side for five games during August and September, Craig Gordon now looks to have firmly re-established himself as the current Celtic #1, and has even reclaimed the starting jersey at International level as well.
A top-class shot stopper with a good command of his penalty area, Gordon’s ‘goalkeeping’ qualities have rarely been called into question during his 2 ½ years at Celtic Park. However, the signing of Dorus DeVries, more for his ability with the ball at his feet than his handling skills, looked set to bench Gordon for the foreseeable future; DeVries ball skills being a better fit with Rodgers philosophy of having a ball playing goalkeeper and building from the back.
Unfortunately for DeVries, his inability to keep the ball out of his own net has cost him his place in the Celtic first team, the Dutch stopper conceding 12 goals in just 5 appearances; including 7 in one fateful night in Barcelona.
Upon his return to the starting line up, Gordon has kept 7 clean sheets in 9 League games, including 6 in a row. He also kept clean sheets throughout the entire League Cup campaign and put in several admirable performances in the Champions League, furthering his claim as Celtic’s outright #1.
With the DeVries experiment failing thus far and with Gordon proving to be a safe pair of hands in goal it is unlikely that Celtic will see the need to sign another goalie during this window. However, as Gordon’s main weakness remains his distribution and general comfort with the ball at his feet it may not be a surprise to see Rodgers move to sign a keeper over the summer unless Gordon can improve this area of his game.
As for Bailly and Fasan, neither look as though they will be making in-roads into the starting 11 any time soon. It would not come as a shock to see one or both players leave on loan or even permanently over the course of the next two transfer windows. With young Ross Doohan looking like a decent prospect in the development squad, Celtic may already have an adequate replacement for third choice keeper should either Bailly or Fasan move on.
After a shaky start which saw Celtic concede 8 goals in the opening 6 games, the defence has tightened somewhat and is now the most watertight in the division. The partnership of Sviatchenko and Simunovic helped propel Celtic to a 6 game run without conceding, with Sviatchenko playing every minute of the 6 games and Jozo missing only two games; proving that consistency in team selection does bear fruits.
As a whole, the first choice back four of Lustig; Sviatchenko; Simunovic; Tierney is extremely imposing and it’s difficult to pick a weakness in that line up. With a reserve four of Gamboa, Toure, O’Connell, and Izzaguire, there seems little need for Rodgers to strengthen his defence for the remainder of the campaign.
Mikael Lustig is Celtic’s Mr. Dependable on the right hand side. Ever willing to get forward to help the attack and solid defensively, the Swede rarely puts a foot wrong, that he is able to fill in at centre half is an added bonus for Rodgers fluid style of switching seamlessly between tactical formations. A new contract is surely in the offing as there can be little denying that Lustig is a key asset to the Celtic defence and currently peerless within the squad at right back.
As understudy, summer signing Christian Gamboa has looked decent if unspectacular in his few outings thus far. A speed machine, he is more suited to a wing back role rather than an orthodox right back but is more than capable of providing adequate cover for Lustig when the Swede needs a rest and is a good reserve option.
Not such a good reserve option is Celtic’s other right back, Saidy Janko, who is currently not getting a game while on-loan at Barnsley. Janko has failed to cover himself in any glory during his fleeting moments in a Hooped jersey and that disaster against Be’er Sheva, which so nearly cost Celtic a Champions League Group place, may very well be his last outing for the club. He never really looked comfortable in the Hoops and a permanent move away next month – loan conditions permitting – or in the summer would be best for all concerned.
At left-back Celtic have the hottest prospect in Scottish football in young Kieran Tierney. He needs no introduction to the fans and unless a ridiculous offer is received for him – which I can’t see happening, in part down to his injury – then he will remain Celtic’s first choice left back for the foreseeable future.
In his absence at present we have fans favourite Emilio Izaguire in place to step up. With Izzy you get a solid and usually reliable attacking full back who gives his all every time he steps onto the park and with over 200 games under his belt for Celtic is a first rate option to have as back up left back.
With neither player looking likely to leave in the near future there is no reason to suggest that Celtic will look to strengthen what is already a strong position in the team.
There can be few debates over Celtic’s best central defensive partnership with Erik Sviatchenko and Jozo Simunovic likely to come out on top in most fans opinions; the stats also support this suggestion. The pair have developed a strong partnership as the season has progressed and have been the rock from which Celtic’s defensive success has been built around; amazingly, Celtic are yet to conceded a League goal in a game in which both Sviatchenko and Simunovic have played. And to think how close Simunovic was to leaving for Torino in the summer; I’ll not be the only Celtic fan glad that move did not materialise.
The experience of Kolo Toure as back-up centre half has already paid dividends this season with the Ivorian playing a key role in guiding Celtic back into the Champions League Group Stage, however, he has looked suspect on occasion with the recent game against Motherwell, and Lewis Moult’s first goal in particular, suggesting that the big man’s best days may well be behind him. As a back-up however, there are few better in the League and Celtic’s young defenders are sure to benefit from his experience in training.
One such defender being Eoghan O’Connell who featured heavily in the opening League and European fixtures before being displaced by the returning Sviatchenko and Simunovic. The Irishman looked confident and assured during Rodgers early games but will need to start playing on a more regular basis if he is to fulfil his promise. A loan move in January and increased exposure to first team football may be a wise move if his career is not to stagnate.
In addition to Sviatchenko, Simunovic, Toure and O’Connell both Dedryk Boyata and Efe Ambrose are still pulling a wage at Celtic Park but potentially not for much longer. Between them, Ambrose and Boyata have played a combined total of 270 minutes football this season and both seem certain to be moved on should an offer, any sort of offer, be made. Ambrose’s spell at Celtic Park will largely be remembered as error strewn with numerous mistakes and lapses in concentration costing goals and games, however, many forget that Ambrose played a starring role for the club during his early days at Celtic. As for Boyata, he’s never really looked at home in the Celtic defence, always a step or two of the pace and has failed to win round the fans; a must at a club like Celtic.
With Erik and Jozo providing a solid defensive base and the mix of Toure’s experience and O’Connell’s youthful exuberance in reserve it would appear unlikely that Brendan Rodgers would move to strengthen further a defence that is already the best in the land. Questions do remain over the long term futures of the latter two but that would be more of an issue for the summer.
Ambrose and Boyata however, any takers?
Looking at the strength in quality and depth of the goalkeepers and defender available to Celtic at the moment it would seem unlikely that any moves will be made to strengthen these areas during the January window. All efforts should be made to retain the current first choice back four however to trim the squad to a more manageable number the likes of Ambrose, Boyata and Janko should be allowed to move on to pastures new.
Midfield and Forward review can be found here.