With 18 goals scored in five successive victories it would appear the demands being made on the training ground by Ange Postecoglou are starting to be reflected on match day. As Celtic head into Saturday’s encounter with St Mirren there is optimism aplenty amongst the Celtic support – who have stepped up to the plate in an incredible fashion this season and indeed last year – that such an upturn in form can be continued.
The cornerstone of Celtic’s improvement thus far has been varied, high intensity football. Other than brief moments against FC Midtjylland when the inverted full backs were temporarily dispensed with for a more traditional approach to counter the Danes unexpected change in formation to a three man defence, and then against AZ Alkmaar as late subsections saw us revert to a 4-2-3-1 to offer protection to the defence as we sought to protect our clean sheet, Ange Postecoglou has kept to his gameplan and offered continuity to the Celtic players being tasked with learning this philosophy.
Postecoglou’s demands on the training field are certainly being heard and implemented, meanwhile off the pitch his demands to the Celtic board for reinforcements have gradually become less than subtle as the sands of time on the manager’s maiden transfer window run out.
He has long moved from suggestion and now appears to be almost pleading for his assessment of the squad, having now been made and found to be lacking, be listened to and acted upon. It is now 17 days since Joe Hart and James McCarthy were added to the squad and with 11 days left of the window it is understandable the time taken to get deals concluded is leaving the manager feeling somewhat pensive.
The Celtic manager appears to have trust in only a limited number of his first team squad, given he has stated he has to send many players continually to the well. Given he has a first team squad that already numbers 34, it is a damning indictment of the readiness of a great deal of those classed as Celtic first team players that so few are seeing match action despite the manager stating he needs to rotate to avoid overburdening certain players and dodge the inevitable muscle injuries that could result from too much too soon at the beginning of a long hard slog of a season.
As a minimum Ange Postecoglou would wish to have two players he can rely on for every position, this is not a lot to ask and is essential for a team expected to play two games every seven days almost every week until Christmas at least. At the moment for a variety of reasons Postecoglou, despite what appears on paper as a bloated first team squad, simply doesn’t have that.
In the goalkeeping position Joe Hart has started impressively, yet there are three others in Scott Bain, Vassilis Barkas and Conor Hazard that the manager has little trust. Both Bain and Barkas rotated early in the season and neither were deemed dependable enough to avoid the manager having to change his pre-season plans and add a goalkeeper to the squad. Meanwhile Hazard has seen no action whatsoever despite Barkas and Bain’s poor form so the writing seems on the wall for Celtic’s Quadruple Treble hero.
In Central defence Carl Starfelt and Stephen Welsh appear the managers first picks, meanwhile Urhoghide, Dane Murray and Bitton appear to have had opportunities then sidelined for a mix of rawness, youthfulness and inconsistency. With Christopher Jullien still out through long term injury it leaves Postecoglou with only two central defenders he is comfortable enough to consider first team ready and dependable enough to rely on.
It is a similar story in the full back areas. The hugely impressive Tony Ralston has been getting the headlines but on the other side Greg Taylor has also impressed greatly. Yet options are criminally short when it comes to Ange’s circle of trust. Lee O’Connor is a first team squad member but clearly nowhere near the manager’s plans. Boli Bolingoli who remains persona non grata with much of the support appears similarly untrusted with a first eleven jersey, and Adam Montgomery has certainly showed promise but early indications may be if he does have a long-term role as a squad player for Postecoglou the preference would be as cover further up the field.
In his three-man midfield the manager has more options and perhaps fewer pressing concerns. Ismaila Soro is perhaps a work in progress but he has attributes that mean he can carry out the manager’s gameplan and James McCarthy may take time to get up to speed but if he can do so quickly Postecoglou will be hoping he can add depth. Callum McGregor is having to fill in the deep lying role for now but you’d assume from early formations Postecoglou would like to move him from the number six role to the eight more often.
Further forward David Turnbull and more recently Tom Rogic’s renaissance has ensured that the creative hub of the team looks more adequate than it did a few short weeks ago. Yet beyond that few of the others in the first team squad have seen any action since pre-season and some were even limited then. Liam Shaw appears on the bench on occasion but has yet to be trusted with a competitive first team game, meanwhile Luca Connell, Scott Robertson, Ewan Henderson and Kerr McInroy appear players the manager has yet to feel he can rely on, even just to rest those in need of a breather.
On paper the attacking three seem to have plentiful options, yet scratch the surface and you’d question even that. James Forrest, Liel Abada and the outstanding Kyogo Furuhashi give the manager a good base, yet there is a clear lack of depth on the left-hand side. Forrest is having to fill in for now but ideally, he and Abada would rotate as the manager’s two options on the right.
On the left Christie was initially, prior to a recent injury, finding himself returning to form now unburdened of defensive responsibility in the middle of the park and receiving clear direction in a wide left role, yet his understudy in the squad being Mikey Johnston is far from ideal given his propensity to bother the physio more often than the training ground in recent times and you could say the same for the unfortunate Dembele. And through the middle Celtic repent at leisure to the inevitable unavailability of Leigh Griffiths despite a one-year contract extension for a player who appears to make more front-page headlines than back as his Celtic career fizzles out.
Meanwhile the enigma that is Albian Ajeti continues to be a code difficult to break. Just where is that striker who burst on the scene with goals galore, picked up an injury and appears to have left a doppelganger in his place? Odsonne Edouard appears to have picked up form and although his feet remain at Celtic his head it seems is out the door.
To work through the numbers, you’d say Ange Postecoglou has worked out who is either up to the job or passable enough at present to at least warrant persevering with. Hart, Starfelt and Welsh; Taylor, Ralston and possibly Adam Montgomery; Soro, McCarthy, Rogic, Turnbull and McGregor and in the attacking options Kyogo, Forrest and Abada seem to have trust as would Christie and Edouard yet their inclusion could be worryingly short-term.
That would leave Postecoglou with sixteen players he can lay his hat on, seventeen if you take the leap of faith that Jullien could return and hit the ground running and eighteen if Mikey Johnston can get himself battle ready long term – both require a leap of faith.
Eighteen players seem a somewhat worrying number to go into a season where games come thick and fast, where the next two away games in particular will test the mental and physical reserves of many players already being asked to play every game. AZ Alkmaar will be no easy place to visit and right after it is a visit to Ibrox.
When you consider the possibility of the occurrence of injury and the fact Christie and Edouard could leave late in the window Ange’s circle of trust could diminish quickly. To use the word threadbare wouldn’t be unfair to describe a squad who are already fighting in three competitions and will add a fourth in the Scottish Cup come January.
If you are scenario planning the number of adequate footballers in the squad paints a bleak picture and as such you can see why Postecoglou is ramping up the demands for new and suitable recruits almost every time he speaks in public.
Celtic’s home form may well hold firm; indeed few would expect anything other than another win against St Mirren on Saturday, however go to grounds as we did already and lost at Tynecastle, or visit McDiarmid Park, or Pittodrie, or Easter Road and do so with the possibility of injuries to key players meaning we are reliant on undercooked kids or experienced pros deemed to have failed muster already, then crucial points over a long hard season could be dropped more often than necessary. As such Postecoglou’s demands need to be met. At present some sixteen players in a squad of 34 are not being relied upon, yes that may alter and some may change the managers mind but will there be enough? That seems unlikely.
It appears despite worrying rumours that Celtic were not willing to spend any further transfer fees and would instead focus on loan deals exclusively until Odsonne Edouard was sold, that a change of approach has occurred. Croatian international right back Josip Juranovic is heavily rumoured to be in Glasgow today to finalise a permanent deal. Is that a sign at last that Ange’s assessment of his squad depth is being listened to? You’d hope so.
There are further rumours Shamrock Rovers Liam Scales, a versatile left sided defender, will choose a first team squad place at Celtic over a Under 23’s berth with Southampton. Again, it may all be conjecture but it would offer Postecoglou depth in key defensive areas if the move materialises.
If both those positions are filled Celtic will need to look at a further central defensive recruit and midfielder to offer cover for Callum McGregor as a minimum, and should Edouard and Christie leave as expected a left sided attacker and a striker will also be required. In fact, it may be prudent to fill both those positions in the next few days to avoid a last-minute grab for either of those players from England or France leaving Celtic scrambling for replacements in the final throws of the transfer window and with selling clubs more than aware of our need and subsequently bumping up their asking price.
Ange Postecoglou has made demands on his players and recently that is showing up in results, however if the Celtic board think that means less recruits are required, they need to have another think.
The team may be playing well but is that sustainable with the number of players Ange Postecoglou has indicated in selections to date he can trust to carry out a physically intensive gameplan over the course of a season? Well, the manager seems to indicate it will not be.
Postecoglou’s demands of his players are now bearing fruit, he has shown signs of what he can achieve, if he does so and he is backed in the transfer market a league title and £30m from automatic qualification for the Champions League awaits. There will also be less need for an expensive outlay next season if we back our man right now. For once speculating to accumulate is the order of the day and it will require the board to show trust in their man. Ange has shown in a short space of time what he can deliver, now he needs the backing to sustain it. The message is clear from Ange Postecoglou, the players have responded to his demands now the Board must follow suit.