George of the Jungle casts a bleary eye over what has been a season of mixed fortunes so far for the Celts.
The New Year is rapidly approaching and for the Celtic support the season so far could perhaps best be described as mixed.
Out of Europe (glass half empty) but top of the league ahead of second placed Aberdeen and the semi final of the League Cup to look forward to in the New Year. (glass half full)
Domestically, the management and players deserve a lot of praise. They have done all that has been asked of them.
Europe is a different story, they have been found wanting far too often.
Rather than, as is traditional at this time of year, mark each player out of 10 for their efforts I thought I’d offer my thoughts on why we are struggling in Europe.
The simple answer, of course, is that the players aren’t good enough. Too many struggle with the basics, they can’t control the ball with their first touch and their repeated failure to accurately pass to a team mate is embarrassing at times. The fitness levels of our players also seem to be below that of our European opponents.
However, another reason I believe we struggle in Europe – and often concede sloppy goals at home – is that we don’t have two good defensive midfield players. We lack a Victor Wanyama.
In midfield the manager can currently choose from Nir Biton, Scott Brown, Stefan Johansen, Kris Commons, Stuart Armstrong, Tom Rogic, Scott Allan, Calum McGregor, James Forrest, Gary Mackay-Steven, Derk Boerrigter and, on occasion, Charlie Mulgrew. Ryan Christie and Liam Henderson can be added to that list once they return from spells on loan at ICT and Hibs respectively.
Is the midfield a case of quantity rather than quality?
Celtic’s midfield, especially in European ties, seems physically weak. We are too easily ‘bullied.’ We lack physical presence.
When fit, it’s usually Biton and Brown who play the defensive midfield roles. When Brown was breaking through at Hibs he was an attacking midfield player. Celtic paid £4m to sign him and ever since seem to have been attempting to turn him into a defensive midfield player. A case of putting a round peg in a square hole? You wouldn’t ask a joiner to do electrical work so why ask a natural attacking player like Scott Brown to become a defensive lynchpin?
While we need to improve quality all over the team, I think the first objective should be to sign at least one – and preferably two – good quality defensive midfield player. The list of midfielder’s above contains 14 names (including Ryan Christie and Liam Henderson) of whom arguably only Nir Biton and Charlie Mulgrew could be considered natural defensive midfield players.
We need a better balance in the centre of the park. A couple of good defensive midfield players would help protect our back four. More often than not in domestic football we can get away with being weak in midfield, but we can’t and don’t get away with that in Europe.
So Dear Santa, please bring another two players of Victor Wanyama’s ability and physique to Celtic before next season’s European adventures begin.