While I’ll merrily continue to put on a fixed odds coupon on occasion and enter my selections into whichever of the predictor competitions I’m in,my days of the optimistic article on our European chances are over.
There,I’ve said it. It might be strange to be writing articles for a Celtic blog while rendering myself mute on our chances of advancement in Europe,but I think it is probably better than suggesting we go into self-imposed exile from European adventures simply to save us a few big riddies every season.
It’s now eighteen long years since John Kennedy and David Marshall staged their own re-enactment of the Alamo in Barcelona,and it is that long since we last won a post-Christmas knockout tie in Europe. And let’s not forget the pre-Christmas maulings we’ve had in the knockout stages too,those embarrassing nights in qualifying-not to mention some horrific beatings in the group stages.
I thought that with the introduction of The Europa Conference that we might have found our level,a stage which we could build upon. Well,that didn’t last long!
So it isn’t just a case of looking on the bright side to say that we can now concentrate on our domestic campaign. It is simply being realistic,for it is all we have left. It is down to the players and the management to focus their attention on those two remaining campaigns and bring us back the glory that the fans at least deserve. We start the rest of our season with a trip to Easter Road tomorrow,followed by a home match against St Mirren-who held us to a draw just before the rescheduled winter break-then a trip to our favourite venue,The Spaghettidome,to play our beloved Livingston.
This is followed by an away tie with Dundee United mid-March,once again on a Monday night! Bummer…
The players and the management know what is required of them,and while I’ll say it again that we are much further forward in our reconstruction than we could have dreamt of a year ago-or even in October!-that can no longer be used as a fallback in the case of failure. We have the players in our squad,the ability to be masters of our own destiny,and we need to refocus our attention domestically and put those European misadventures behind us. Maybe we will someday win that post-Christmas European tie,but for now Europe is but a (bad) memory. It will all be forgotten,temporarily at least,if we can get our shooting boots on in Scotland.
However,even although domestic results have largely fallen our way since New Year,even though some of our displays have been an absolute joy,there are still some questions which AP will have to address if we are to achieve our domestic dream. The first and most obvious is why we seem unable to maintain the pace and the quality for anywhere approaching the full ninety minutes.
Sure,we can grind out late victories against Ross County and Dundee,which shows at least that the desire and the effort is there from the players,but on both those occasions there was little of the expected quality on display for the rest of the ninety minutes-and no,I’m taking nothing away from the G-Mak perfect hat trick,or the Tony Ralston header. If anything,those examples prove rather than contradict my point. We,the fans,can expect full on 100% effort from the players as they chase a victory,or we can have an hour or so of quality followed by a thirty minutes public warm down. To achieve that brilliance,that quality,and maintain it for the entire match is currently beyond the squad. And if the fans are aware of it,so too will AP be. And the opposition.
Celtic used to tire opposition players out with their relentless attacking forays,leaving them vulnerable in the later stages,at which we could tighten our grip on the match. Maybe our current style is achieving the opposite instead,and it is us who are leg-weary in the later stages. I honestly do not know why this is,but I’m sure that Ange will be looking to address that frailty.
So let’s look at some possibilities of selection which might make that job easier for him. With Kyogo apparently unlikely to return before the international break at the end of March,his compatriot Maeda is our first choice striker. He has the heart of a lion and the endurance of the Duracell bunny. But he is not a winger,so play him through the middle. G-Mak is similar in those ways,but to play him means putting Maeda wide,so that means it is either/or,not both. The resulting reduction in central firepower is offset by playing our two goalscoring wingers,Jota and Abada.
Remove CalMac from the wholly unsuitable holding role. He is far better further forward,and I’d play him to the left of the midfield with O’Riley on the right. This gives us a combination on the right of Juranovic-O’Riley-Abada with Taylor-CalMac-Jota on the left. Guchi in the holding role with our two established centre backs behind him.
There are plenty of substitution options available to the manager when he has a squad of our size,and he has to use them wisely,and at the right time. I certainly won’t be offering my advice on that one as I’m not a fan of micromanagement! My point is that with little over a dozen games to go this season,we should surely be able to have a settled first eleven and a settled formation. I’m not accusing AP of “tinkering” just for the sake of it,he has had problems with players being unavailable or simply needing a rest/out of form. My suggestion is to settle on an eleven and stick with it.
And find out why we can’t sparkle for ninety bloody minutes!
Above article by BMCUWP
Sent from my iPad