Sunday’s win against Ross County leaves Celtic nine points clear of theRangers, with a Glasgow Derby to come this weekend, at Celtic Park, exclusively in front of our own support. A win and the term Champions elect will be a suitable descriptor for Ange Postecoglou’s exceptional team.
As such It’s a good time to take stock of where Celtic Football Club are this season and who have been the most consistent performers.
Celtic started strongly with a sun-drenched Celtic Park bearing witness to a 2-0 defeat of Aberdeen in July, with Stephen Welsh and Jota grabbing the goals, and from their domestic dominance ensued. As things stand Celtic have lost just one, against St Mirren, this season, across three domestic competitions. A quite remarkable feat.
The only downside would have been in the Champions League where results perhaps didn’t match the level of performance, although after five years away from Europe’s premier competition, the performances were reassuring and offered the promise of better to come. Winning the Scottish premiership will mean that the club will be back in the Champions League next season giving them more than one hundred million reasons to look forward to a more productive campaign at the second time of asking for Ange Postecoglou’s exciting Celtic side.
The League Cup was defended with a blowing away of our city rivals at Hampden, and the Celts will compete in the Scottish Cup semi-final against the same opponent. The same outcome would be also more than welcomed. With a nine-point advantage in the Scottish Premiership, this season also now looks like as if a domestic treble is a distinct possibility.
Comparing defenders to midfielders, and to attackers is a like comparing apples to oranges and bananas. And whilst Callum McGregor would be a shoe-in for any player of the year discussion, what about the rest?
The case for the defence…
If Celtic have ever played with a higher defensive line in my time watching the club, I must have slept through that season. Add to that our inverted full backs gamble that attack is the best form of defence and create additional midfield options, while leaving Joe Hart, who incidentally is leading the way in terms of clean-sheets in the Scottish Premiership this season, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt exposed to the counter attack.
Josip Juranovic started the season in the right back berth and new signing Alastair Johnston will end it and he has looked a fine acquisition. Meanwhile on the other flank the arrival of Alex Bernabei offered Greg Taylor some cover and competition, to the point Taylor has had his best season in a Celtic shirt.
And whilst Carl Starfelt defends his box like you would wish of any defender, his odd unforced error, much like his goalkeeper, means the standout defender of the season has to be the ever-consistent Cameron Carter-Vickers.
Is it too much to say he’s the best in that position since Virgil Van Dijk? I don’t think it is. Whether it is winning individual battles, reading the game and the danger, or bringing the ball out and distributing it with accuracy from the back, Carter-Vickers stands above even the likes of Greg Taylor, who would push him close as a defender of the season nominee but would fall just short.
The Maestro of Midfield…
In midfield Celtic are spoiled for choices when assessing who is best. The captain does what the captain does, and for me has been the most consistent Celtic performer over the course of many seasons, and would make the player of the year shortlist this season, as with many others.
Aaron Mooy is enjoying an Indian summer at Celtic and is a wonderfully graceful, almost effortless, looking footballer, with incredible vision and a relaxed attitude which belies the effort he clearly puts in that has been impressing not only fans but also bookmakers such as LeoVegas sports, who had to rethink Celtic’s odds with their star player’s performances.
Matt O’Reilly started the season well, stood in for McGregor when injury struck, and looked impressive in the deep lying playmaker role, as much as in his preferred advance midfield role. But of late O’Reilly has struggled to force his way into the side ahead of Aaron Mooy – and of course Reo Hatate.
If you had to choose which player would be your midfield pick it would be hard to look past Reo Hatate. He’s the player who will endure the groans when a pass doesn’t come off and will try again thirty seconds later and pull it off, whilst treating the displeasure and the adulation as equally important to his learning process. Hatate can see the pitch, and everyone on it, with his back turned and he has a first touch which could catch a falling baby.
Hatate must be a nightmare to defend against, and his peers will no doubt feel the same way when the Players Player of the Year awards are announced. He is a near certainty to win that award as footballers in the main appreciate good players, no matter which team they play for. As do we as supporters -in the main – and that’s why Reo Hatate just edges Aaron Mooy to make a Celtic player of the year shortlist alongside his captain.
The Attack which Unlocks the Defence…
On the available evidence it would seem Celtic are spoiled for attacking options, and choosing the best of them should be far from easy, but it’s really not too difficult after all.
Jota, Celtic’s peacock’s tail, has supplied us with beautiful moments. No more so than THAT delightful staggered run into the box against theRangers and the outrageous chipped finish from an angle far tougher than he made it look. But if we’re being critical more consistency is needed from Jota on the wing, but we all know it will come.
The same could be said for Daizen Maeda, whose work rate is tiring enough to watch and has pace that appears almost superhuman. Yet a final ball is too often lacking for him to be considered as the best of the attacking performers this season, although it must be noted he appears to be aware of just that and is making incremental improvements all the time.
Liel Abada is a youngster who could be anything he wants to be in this game, but as we’ve seen he’s been more often used as an impact substitute this season, with a final delivery lacking and an ability to face up to a man and beat him also just short of what is required. He’ll get there, of that there is no doubt. And when he adds those attributes to his perfect timing when arriving in the box, and as a scorer of the most vital of goals, Celtic will have a future player of the year on our hands.
But in truth there can only be one winner in the attacking stakes. Kyogo Furuhashi.
The scorer of a brace for the second successive League Cup Final, Kyogo should be a midfielder’s dream. His work rate as the first line of defence is up there with Maeda, but his off the ball running and creating channels for his teammates to find him is elite level exceptional, and arguably demands better from those tasked with finding him.
Kyogo was matched in the goal stakes last season by Giorgos Giakoumakis, yet by January, he had seen him off the premises, such is our Japanese striker’s consistency.
Now he has Hyeongyu Oh to contend with and appears the new fella will offer even more competition than Giakoumakis, yet still Kyogo keeps producing the goods.
He’s played 28 Scottish premiership games and has scored 20 goals, in the League Cup he played three times and scored three goals. In the Scottish Cup he’s had the same return from the same number of goals, with a semi-final yet to come.
Whilst other attacking options want for more consistency, the same cannot be said of Kyogo. When he plays, he almost guarantees goals, and his selfless running also distracts defenders so others can hover up their fair share also. He is a top-class striker, but also has the humility and selflessness required to be a right good teammate to boot. Kyogo offered much promise in an injury hit season last time out, this time around he has delivered on that promise.
This season has arguably been even better than the last, no mean feat considering how much we enjoyed Ange Postecoglou’s first season in charge.
However, the layers which have been added to this team over the course of the season has resulted in a Celtic side on course for a domestic clean sweep and having tasted defeat on only one occasion.
As such it has been a joy to watch this team develop, to the point it is difficult to pick four players out to construct a player of the years shortlist. However, Callum McGregor, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Reo Hatate and Kyogo pick themselves through consistent high-level performances over the course of a long hard season.
The final decision will come down to the readers of the Celtic Star, but it may be worth holding off on that vote just yet, as someone on that list may just about to make a case for themselves which no-one else could match, as the Celtic season reaches its climax over the next few weeks.