It’s not quite perfect – starting as it does without supporters backing the team – but it is here and happening and much earlier than any of us thought possible.
The Scottish Premiership season starts this weekend and for Celtic the league flag for Nine-in-a-Row will be unfurled the following day at home to Hamilton. From there Celtic begin the defence of their title and start the most significant of seasons. The campaign for Ten-in-a-Row.
For Celtic there has been a lot of change since the 5-0 win against St Mirren on Saturday 7 March and not only due to the ‘new normal’ of the Covid 19 landscape. The squad has seen some changes yet the majority of players who won the Nine remain at the club.
🇬🇷🍀 Our new goalkeeper, Vasilis Barkas training at Lennoxtown today! 🧤 pic.twitter.com/qHvMBZA1pt
— Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) July 31, 2020
We have lost two goalkeepers in Fraser Forster and Craig Gordon and brought in Greek International Vasilis Barkas on a 4 year deal as our new number one. It looks like Scott Bain will be the back-up for the year ahead while Conor Hazard becomes third choice.
In Defence we’ve lost some well-kent faces and a few who only briefly passed through. Jonny Hayes wasn’t offered a new contract and is now back on the books at his old club Aberdeen, Jozo Simunovic was denied his option for an extra year, Jack Hendry has headed out on loan to KV Oostende while Mauitz Bauer has headed back to Stoke after a year on loan. Calvin Miller has also been released.
In midfield, Eboue Kouassi has headed to Belgium to sign for Genk after an initial loan spell, Daniel Arzani ended a frustrating and injury hit two year loan from Manchester City and Moi Elyounoussi’s end of loan made for double figure exits, before the Norwegian turned back around again and signed on for another season. One of only two signings so far in this transfer window. Both however seem first eleven players.
Despite the turnover it’s fair to say most of those leaving rarely troubled the match day team for a kick of the ball or were squad players at best. Considering the financial climate savings had to be made. The areas where they have occured has had a minimal impact on the squad and if pre-season is any indication as to the quality of the young players’ abilities, then the likes of Stephen Welsh, Karamoko Demble, Patryk Klimala and Ismaila Soro will all have a part to play in the season ahead.
We also seem active in the market for attacking options at the moment so the squad that faces Hamilton is still likely to see a couple more additions at least before transfer window closes.
Tomorrow’s opponents Hamilton always seem to be favourites for relegation, yet this is their seventh season in the top flight, a record number of successive seasons for the South Lanarkshire club, going back to the 1940’s.
The last time Celtic played Hamilton at Celtic Park it took a late injury time winner from Captain Scott Brown to seal the points for Celtic in a 2-1 win. It was an important night in the league title race and a sign that Brian Rice’s side shouldn’t be underestimated on Sunday.
That said it’s a very different Hamilton that will take the field against the Hoops this time around. Accies have eclipsed Celtic in the cloth cutting exercise with 17 players leaving the New Douglas Park outfit, and with it a total of 350 games experience between them.
Andy Dales (back to Scunthorpe Utd), Luke Southwood (back to Reading) and Sam Woods (back to Crystal Palace) have returned to their parent clubs, whilst the most notable exits for the Accies were Blair Alston, Jay Blair, Steve Davies, Alex Gogic, Johnny Hunt, Aaron McGowan, Mickel Miller, George Oakley and Charlie Reilly all departing at the end of their contracts.
The new faces that we may not recognise for the season ahead are, Callum Smith 20 years old and a Scotland Under-19 International who has scored twice in 5 games at International level. He joins the Accies following spells with Dunfermline, Alloa and Airdrie.
Next in the door was Charlie Trafford, a 28 year old midfielder signed after leaving Inverness Caledonian Thistle, where he had played for the last three seasons. He’s also a Canadian international.
One perhaps a little better known is 26 year old midfielder Ross Callaghan who joined from St Johnstone. Callaghan also had spells at Hearts and Dundee after making a name for himself with 129 appearances for Raith Rovers.
The most recent signing for Accies – and the one Celtic will more than likely have to pay the closest attention to – is highly-rated attacker Tunde Owolabi. Accies have signed the player on a on a season-long deal. A Nigerian born striker he has scored 35 goals for his previous club FC United of Manchester.
It’s fair to say then that we won’t really know what we’re going to get from Hamilton on Sunday, but we do from Celtic. With two wins, two defeats and a draw over five pre-season friendlies Celtic should now be up to speed for the first game back.
For the majority of the friendly encounters Celtic have operated with the 4-2-3-1 formation and with Moi Elyounoussi being so prominent, back from injury and firing in the goals, you’d expect the same formation on Sunday.
The only real issue in terms of personnel will be whether Barkas takes the starting spot ahead of Scott Bain who has had a mixed pre-season, performing well against domestic opponents but looking a little rusty against French opposition. With two away games coming up it probably makes sense to put the new Bhoy Barkas straight into the game tomorrow.
It looks like Celtic then could line-up. Barkas, Frimpong, Ajer Jullien and Taylor with a midfield of Brown, McGregor and Christie, with the width coming from Elyounoussi and Forrest supporting Edouard as the loan striker.
You’d fancy Celtic to lay down a marker then and despite a lack of atmosphere you should see a high tempo start from Celtic and an early goal would settle any nerves. I’ll predict a 4-1 win for the Hoops, with Moi Elyounoussi a good shout to get the first goal of the 10-in-a-row campaign.
Good luck to all the Bhoys from all of us at The Celtic Star ahead of THE most historic of domestic football seasons in the club’s history. Here we go, Ten-in-a-Row!
ALSO ON THE CELTIC STAR…
"Everything doesn't just stop at the end of this season if we achieve Ten," Neil Lennon | The Celtic Star https://t.co/fOX0uJ2PSd
— The Celtic Star Editor – INVINCIBLE (@CelticStarMag) August 1, 2020