Closing the gap
Martin famously announced he only wanted to close the gap, classic mind games right at the start, but to these eyes Ange has went about closing an actual gap.
Specifically, the gap between the first and second choice players in each position.
Over the last year, an actual squad has been assembled. Most Celtic managers have their first choice eleven then a visible drop off in quality, Peter should shoulder most of the recent blame in this regard.
Ange looks to have turned that around through clever squad churning allied with his fantastic eye for a player.
Opening fixture of the Champions League I expect the lineup to be,,,
The new guys passed the usual Ange eyeball test and therefore have been deemed good enough to play for the first team (why wouldn’t you assume that given the success rate?) so I believe most would accept that as our strongest starting eleven.
G-Mak (Garry coined that, RIP brother)
to ease the burden post top table Champions League games which statistically hold a better chance for opposition teams. That reads like a first team in itself, many SPL managers would play that starting eleven if given the choice, most never get near that quality of player.
We’ve reached the stage there’s not much of a gap in quality between perceived first choice and squad players. Ange being Ange, theres no sentiment involved and every position is there to be won,,last season some such as G-Mak did fully grasp the opportunity. Maeda hussled Abada out of a starting slot.
Such things happen. Especially when you’ve good players filling the squad.
Competition is healthy as they say.
The best squad usually wins the league, an acknowledged footballing fact, and to these eyes, we have the best squad in the land. Keeping the team playing at a consistent level is obviously easier when all squad members are in or around the same level. When most are, those who aren’t stick out like sore thumbs.
At this moment in time, I don’t see any ‘sore thumbs’ in or around the first team squad. Nor do I envision any.
We watched the Odsonne, Kris Ajer and Ryan Christie positions upgraded last summer, then more upgrading took place in January. Most years young starlet Abada wouldn’t lose his starting position, he and James would have been considered enough cover for the right wing slot.
Who would have imagined an undroppable left winger coming in, forcing the existing wonderkid onto the opposite flank?
Now that’s true competition, players having to adapt in order to play, having had their own berth taken by the new bhoy.
The battle to become the automatic starting striker was exciting last season, I lean towards the Greek as he’s more of an all round goalscorer, but thon Japanese lad has magic in them boots sometimes. He’s a joy to watch on his day, I suspect he is Ange’s preferred starter for the extra work rate he offers, but I don’t think he’ll get the nod in every CL group stage match. Those two pushing each other on is priceless.
The January Japanese trio had a legitimate excuse for tiredness, and it was generally accepted they helped us over the line but the best is yet to come, after a well deserved rest.
Well that short five weeks has come and gine, rest times over and it’s time for the serious stuff. Two of our four Japanese players have transitioned into first choice, one (Hatate) sits on the edge of the first team while Guchis Celtic career hasn’t really started.
The two on the fringes have their compatriots leading the way, showing them how to trailblaze their way into the starting eleven by way of serious work rate alongside a good footballing brain.
This season is their opportunity to become serious Celtic players in their own right, I don’t get the feeling they are happy to simply hang around and pick up wage, these guys want to play. They’ll get their chance, there’s a lot of football ahead.
Young Master Taylor won’t be happy some foreign whippersnapper showed up and stole his position. He’s more knowledgeable of the local game, a bit bigger and stronger, knows what Ange wants, and frankly he works his balls off when given the opportunity.
Bernabei has competition.
The pressures on him to perform now, a solid backup in the wings usually helps to add focus. A smallish pricetag doesn’t scream automatic starter either.
There will be a battle for the starting left back berth, alongside most others.
Thats a real good sign, and offers good portent for the upcoming campaign.
Battles on the pitch, personal battles off it, not to mention the battle of trying to be competitive at Europe’s top table.
Bring it on.