It’s been an interesting and at times strange season so far this campaign. We’ve had deserved losses against St Johnstone and Kilmarnock in the SPL and yet quite enthralling performances in the Champions League qualifiers and group matches. A domestic defeat against one of the above two clubs would normally result in the panic button being pushed by many supporters. The demise of Rangers Football Club and progression to the CL group stages has literally changed the ball game.
With Rangers gone there is for most fans – not all – more patience being shown as they understand we now live in very different times. With Neil Lennon building a very good and possibly fantastic young team the potential is there for all to see. Any young side will always witness more ups and downs compared to a squad full of experienced campaigners. The world we live in means Celtic will no longer have the £6m signings of Sutton, Lennon and Hartson to bulldoze their way through the domestic competition. Instead young players like Hooper, Forster and Wanyama signed for 15-30% of the afore-mentioned players and also on a fraction of their wages will be developed in Celtic shirts as they go through a steep learning curve before hopefully going on to be established top level players.
The advancement to the Champions League group stage and in my view, quite brilliant performances from the players and coaching staff, has offered supporters a surprising, yes surprising, picture of what may be possible if this young group of players and coaching staff is given encouragement and support, more so knowing the evil enemy are no more.
With supporters focus turning more and more to the Champions League I’ve got absolutely no doubt the players feel exactly the same way. It was interesting prior to the Benfica match and following defeat to St Johnstone when Kris Commons opined it was difficult not to think about the Champions League when no players other than Broonie and Sami had participated at this level. Sure our expectations is a professional should treat every game the same – a message the manager has reinforced many times since defeat to Killie – but reality particularly for younger players can be very different, more so without the weekly focus on what’s happening across the city that may influence the league campaign.
Where am I going with this? Patience will be rewarded.
This group of players will switch off from time due to the very unusual circumstances but in a strange way this allows them a fantastic opportunity to progress physically, psychologically and professionally and in the near future we may witness a quite special time in Celtic’s history.
Dundee United is a club I’ve always had tremendous respect for. Jim McLean was incredible there building a group that competed with Europe’s finest and played football the right way. Eddie Thompson took over and again continued a tradition of playing very good passing football while standing up for what is good and challenging what is wrong in Scottish football. United have traditionally had a top class youth development system and recent events has shown this continuing to deliver. Goodwillie went for over £2m last year and in Celtic-daft Johnny Russell and Gary Mackay-Steven, United have unearthed another couple of cracking prospects.
The Arabs will raise their game but if we continue to display patience and retain the ball with a purpose then we can win this game comfortably.
A big change in our game has seen a ball playing centre back move into midfield thus pulling opponents out of position. If all going to plan – Ambrose, Wilson or Mulgrew can drive forward and it commits a midfielder forward and allows a space to be exploited behind them. This is crucial to creating chances especially if we can retain the ball well utilising a high tempo to drag opponents all over the pitch.
Regarding team selection, if there’s any doubt with any first choice player then no debate, they must be rested for Wednesday. Gary Hooper is one who springs to mind and Scott Brown another. If in doubt, yir oot must be the motto!
We’ve got a number of players desperate to play and after last week and the manager’s comments, I’ve got no doubt looking to prove a point to Neil Lennon with criticism still ringing in their ears.
I’ll go for Celtic to win a very entertaining game by two goals.
Possible team selection: Forster, Matthews, Ambrose, Wilson, Mulgrew, Kayal, Wanyama, Ledley, Miku, Watt & Commons.