ON Monday Celtic showcased the quality of our second team. A 3-1 win over a strong Hibs side at an eerie Celtic Park was enough to give Neil Lennon food for thought ahead of Sunday’s league curtain raiser against Hamilton.
A Patryk Klimala brace and a first Celtic goal for Karamoko Dembele cancelled out Doig’s first half effort for the Edinburgh side. Klimala was ruthless, he stole Griffiths’ goal – not out of greed but out of certainty, he didn’t know who was behind him but he didn’t let sentiment for the returning Griff to stop him from knocking the ball over the line.
Notably, Klimala came alive when partnered by Griffiths, something that the manager will have noticed. These two will know that the pending arrival of West Ham’s Albian Ajeti will mean that for one of them, game time could be extremely limited and it is a cut throat business.
That’s probably another factor behind Klimala’s cheeky first goal on Monday afternoon. He did the work over lockdown, he bulked up and trained hard whilst the 29-year-old Griffiths felt the wrath of Lennon for his lack of work during the lockdown period. Griffiths worked his way back and looked sharp when he came on, something that Lennon will be pleased about.
There were notable absences in the squad with Boli Bolingoli and Tom Rogic out the squad whilst Nir Bitton was carrying a knock. Straight away, Celtic could be without three players that have first team experience and are of a top calibre. Bolingoli could have merely been rested after Greg Taylor was forced off the pitch following a bad tackle in the game on Sunday vs Ross County.
Tom Rogic is a strange one, he appears to have all the quality needed to open defences up but the Australian just struggles to stay fit through injuries. Without this, I am sure that he would be away from Celtic – such is his quality – but as Christie and Ntcham arrived to compete with Tam, it appears that he is now trying to keep himself in the first team picture. If Rogic can get himself fit, he has the ability to really turn games – we saw it last year in games that Rogic started in or came on in. Getting Rogic fit and having the luxury of mixing between him and Christie bodes well for the new season.
Our midfield is by far our strongest department with the Rolls Royce that is Olivier Ntcham proving that he is one of the club’s top players. Lennon, Kennedy and Strachan will know his abilities at training but he took a leading role yesterday, one in which he battled for everything – not quite the surly rhetoric that is spun against the Frenchman.
Ismaila Soro joined him in midfield and his tenacity was incredible, they complemented each other well, allowing a robust core to the Celtic XI to dominate the play and dictate the tempo.
Albian Ajeti (maybe) and Vasilias Barkas ( just about done and dusted) are close to joining the squad, strengthening in key areas as the campaign to win Ten-in-a-Row nears.
Barkas joins knowing he will be likely to become the club’s new number one after Fraser Forster decided against a move to the club. In fiscal terms, it makes more sense moving for Barkas who will command a weekly wage that is more in line with the club’s financial constraints along with his age, stats and international experience allowing him to have a great deal more value than the 32-year-old Englishman. Forster is well-liked at Celtic Park but he has decided to play a long game instead of sealing his return to Glasgow.
Anthony Ralston started at right back, but it appears that his Celtic career is over. With Jeremie Frimpong and Hatem Abd Elhamed in front of him, he is unlikely to have a future at the club. With loan spells at St Johnstone and Dundee United in the past, Ralston will not be short of offers as a promising right back. Despite being thrown in at the deep end vs PSG, Ralston didn’t look overly comfortable in other outings for the club but possesses qualities that mean he will have a successful career if he does leave.
Celtic kept the same 14 players in the run last season that opened up a 13-point gap over Rangers and quite right, these guys were getting the job done week after week. However, if any injuries come then the B team will be called upon – do we have the strength to cope with an injury to Kris Ajer or Christopher Jullien?
The answer is likely to be a mixture of we’ll manage and hopefully but the reality is that we only have two recognised senior central defenders. Bitton and Elhamed are worthy understudies but for a season of this magnitude, we should be making sure that we are covered in every eventuality.
The understudies could prove to be the key to 10IAR and Neil Lennon will be pleased with what he saw but know that he needs to reinforce certain positions.