The Cynic Column | Celtic’s Three Changes

Most discussions about squad improvement in January will invariably be centred around the need for Celtic to sign players, those shiny new tools guaranteed to make the machine work better…

Often overlooked is what can be done with the parts already available. Here’s the three internal team changes I’d like to see Brendan Rodgers make for Celtic’s return after the winter break.

 

1. Make Scott Bain the Number 1

Ever since he made benching Craig Gordon for Dorus de Vries one of his first major decisions as Celtic manager, Brendan Rodgers’ relationship with the man who has now started 131 of his 158 games in charge has seemed non-committal at best.

Perhaps he’s been doing the same commitment arithmetic as a lot of other Celtic fans: the occasional brilliant save bringing an euphoric high and doing just enough to keep the relationship ticking over as Brendan yet again persuade himself not to ditch his familiar goalkeeper for someone unknown.

The main issue is Gordon’s feet and what he does with them. It’s not only that his technique and passing ability seem lacking at time, what must frustrate Rodgers even more is Gordon’s decision-making and his tendency to occasionally go long and aimless when under even the slightest of pressure.

For Brendan Rodgers, Craig Gordon might be someone quite comfortable and occasionally very nice, but ultimately he’s never going to be able to fulfil all his needs.

To finally get over him completely, Rodgers might just need a rebound.

I hold these truths to be self-evident:

Craig Gordon can make saves that are beyond Scott Bain.

Overall, Scott Bain do not have the quality to become a long-term first choice goalkeeper for Celtic.

Scott Bain should be Celtic’s number 1 for the rest of the season.

Bain’s ability, mobility and confidence with his feet might well be the only real advantage he has over Gordon, but to me the difference between the two are not huge when it comes to both shot stopping or cross handling. Bain has got a recent successful league cup campaign behind him and have looked fairly comfortable whenever called upon for Celtic.

He’s good enough overall to be trusted for the rest of the season and so much better with his feet to allow Brendan Rodgers a proper look at what he’s actually missing through sticking with nice guy Craig.

Letting Bain have a proper run in team should help illustrate how much Celtic could gain as a team by having a goalkeeper with good distribution and whether it’s worth missing out on those occasional great saves. Let Brendan see if the grass *is* greener.

 

2. Make Kristoffer Ajer the first choice centre-back.

Celtic’s centre-back drama from those first fews chaotic weeks of the season has settled into something resembling normality. While the Glasgow derby was not a great day for either Dedryck Boyata or Filip Benkovic, they’ve instilled at least a sense of order over the last couple of months. Per today, they’re probably Celtic’s best centre-half pairing.

That partnership should stop. It seems very unlikely that Dedryck Boyata will be a Celtic player beyond this season. About as unlikely as Filip Benkovic, who already has the quality to succeed in the English Premier League. Jozo Simunovic is in his fourth season at Celtic Park and have yet to convince, well, anyone. Most Celtic fans are completely convinced about Jack Hendry, but not in the way he’d like.

Kristoffer Ajer should come out of the winter-break as Celtic’s first choice centre-back as he’s currently the club’s only real long-term centre-back prospect. He could also become ridiculously good.

It’s been a stop-start season for the Norwegian with two injury absences, several substitute appearances and playing out of position at right-back.

Still only 20, he has the potential to be everything Celtic need in a centre-back: his physique and strength makes him able to handle the traditional aspects of the role (at 91%, he’s won the highest percentage of defensive air duels in the league this season) and with his ability to carry the ball and picking passes up into the forward line he’s got the ‘modern’ offensive qualities required of a more ball-playing centre-back.

He’s also shown that given the right role, he has the personality to become a leadership figure even at such a young age. While still having plenty to learn and by no means the finished article, Ajer is alongside Kieran Tierney and Odsonne Edourad one of Celtic’s most valuable asset. It’s entirely understandable that Kristoffer Ajer haven’t been Celtic’s first-choice centre back for large parts of this season. After the break, he surely must be.

 

 

3. Don’t move Callum McGregor from his best position

The question of when and if to start easing Scott Brown out of the Celtic starting line-up would always end up becoming one of the defining decisions for a Celtic manager.

Injury plagued and definitely not playing at his best during Ronny Deila’s last season, Brendan Rodgers found a way to rejuvenate Brown’s Celtic career, making him a key part of his invincible triple winning team. Brown was integral in the double treble team as well, but the story this season has been very different.

A tricky start to the season for the whole team was followed by Brown’s first substantial injury under Rodgers’ reign. After returning, Brown has seemed well off the pace, willing but not quite able. 34 this summer, it seems time has finally caught up with a player worthy of legend status at the club.

With his captain out injured, Rodgers was handed a ready-made solution to The Brown Condundrum: Callum McGregor seemed perfectly at ease in the deep lying midfield role straight away. His mobility, physical and mental quickness, and especially his passing ability, a much more natural fit to Rodger’s playing style than Brown’s more combative skills.

McGregor’s versatility and intelligence have seen him deployed in a range of different positions both under Deila and Rodgers, doing well – sometimes great – in all, but with a sense that he had still not found the perfect role to suit his skills. Until now.

With McGregor as the number 6, Celtic have someone who is more comfortable on the ball under pressure and with a wider range of passing and mobility from deep, but also a player whose experience in more attacking positions and his varied skill-set mean he can move seamlessly with the team up the field, contributing a lot more offensively and in the opposition’s half than Brown is now capable of.

With some evident holes in Celtic’s squad, McGregor is still occasionally a victim of his own versatility – most recently being played at left-back in the Glasgow derby. That should now stop. The deep-lying role in midfield is far too essential to Celtic’s success for the best option not to be deployed there, no matter the needs elsewhere.


Christian came to Scotland in 2001 and nobody have still managed to get rid of him. A native of Oslo, Norway, he was a huge fan of Ronny Deila before it was cool and still is now that nobody likes him anymore. Christian joined the Cynics in 2014 and is now website editor and infrequent podcaster. He has previously written for The Herald, Scotsman and has also contributed to STV (face) and BBC (voice)


'The Cynic Column | Celtic’s Three Changes' have 8 comments

  1. January 3, 2019 @ 8:27 pm Al

    Get a ready made striker, drop or replace Sinclair, and nitcham too

    Reply

  2. January 3, 2019 @ 8:32 pm Darren Nugent

    Bain not a patch on Gordon give us all peace with this shite,
    Ajer lol Ajer is an absolute joke of a football player you must be at the wind up or something he’s total mince, get him tae f*uk, agree mcgregor should be played in his best position but brown and Ntcham need to go ASAP browns done Ntcham has spat the dummy.

    Reply

    • January 3, 2019 @ 10:47 pm Lynn thayne

      I agree with every thing u said .But honestly the whole defence is terrable. Why can’t Rodgers see what we see . As far as the so called strikers they are disgrace

      Reply

  3. January 3, 2019 @ 10:17 pm Ianbhoy

    Get rid of John Kennedy, he has had enough of our cash and seems to bring very little to the table.

    Reply

  4. January 3, 2019 @ 10:23 pm David gill

    Said it for a long time Craig has to be admired as a person and goalkeeper. Like Ambrose he can be terrific for 80 mins and blow it for 10 mins. There is something wrong with Brendan or coaches by not rectifying this ages ago. I remember in pre Jocks time Celtic playing Murdoch as a right singer and doing strange team formations against the Rangers, so I agree wholeheartedly with the McGregor view. Let’s hear soon about who Brendan want re quality and then attack board if rejected, he in my opinion is too reticent and complains after the horse has bolted. Time to stand up and stand out as a manager , I await with baited breath🍀🇮🇪

    Reply

  5. January 3, 2019 @ 10:55 pm Andrew

    I don’t agree! Ajmer is too young to be first choice CB – he needs to learn his grade playing alongside a CB with experience.
    Bain is not better than Gordon and has done little in the game to suggest or prove otherwise.

    McGregor needs to be played in his preferred position and yes Brown should now be thinking of calling time on his Celtic career and handing the captaincy to McGregor or KT.

    Reply

  6. January 3, 2019 @ 11:02 pm MajorError

    If we are such a bad team why have we won all these trophy and why are we top of the league. Trust in Brendan.

    Reply

  7. January 3, 2019 @ 11:04 pm Colin Mc Gregor

    I want Brendan to sign a top class keeper in the summer for the champions league coz Gordon & Bain just haven’t got it for Europe they can do a job in the premier league Ajer is still young &learning lets not forget he came to Celtic as a midfielder so we need another experienced centre back plus I agree keep McGregor in his normal position & make him captain

    Reply


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