The title looks nailed on, but will it be another season of European heartbreak for Celtic?
Pre-Season: Good, bad or ugly?
Friendly results weren’t great and underlined something fans already knew – we’re short of firepower. The goals haven’t exactly been flowing and manager Neil Lennon knows as well as any fan that the team needs reinforcements up front, as well as in defence. Gary Hooper needs help. However, a well-deserved draw with Inter Milan has raised confidence, as have four goals in a relatively comfortable Champions League qualifying tie against HJK Helsinki.
Hopes for the season
With New Rangers consigned to the lower divisions, most confidently predict domestic domination and the fans expect the title, ideally as part of a domestic treble. This is nothing new, though. Even before the Ibrox implosion, Celtic fans always expect the title. The problem this season is that Celtic will receive little credit if they do win the league, so Lennon and his players must look to European results for any possible plaudits, and that’s an area that’s been troublesome in recent seasons.
Fears for the season
The nightmare scenario would be a complacent side, without the added fire of Old Firm encounters and with a sense that the trophies are already as good as in the cabinet, somehow slipping up and throwing them away to mass humiliation. To most fans, this is inconceivable. Another European failure would break many hearts, but perhaps a larger concern is the fear of becoming the bad guys. The ‘Old Firm’ are traditionally blamed for all the evils of the world, and in an SPL without Rangers, will Celtic become the sole recipients of bad press and scapegoating every time something goes wrong in the Scottish game? Given our desire to think of ourselves as the good guys, this would be a bitter pill to swallow.
Absolute bare minimum you’ll accept
The league, pure and simple. In the absence of the team in blue, Celtic have to win the title, and by a good margin. Anything less would be considered a disaster. The days of UEFA Cup finals in Seville are gone for the time being but to qualify for the Champions League would satisfy most. Getting to the knockout stages is the big hope, but not getting dumped out yet again by Euro also-rans is an expectation. There was definite progress in a tough Europa league group last year, so let’s hope for further improvement this year.
Fixture you’re most looking forward to?
Cynics have ‘joked’ that Old Firm meetings in both cup competitions are a virtual certainty but, conspiracy theories aside, if it did happen, you can bet the atmosphere would be electric. Otherwise, all eyes turn to Europe– the final qualifying round for the Champions League will be the club’s most important fixture for several years.
Got the right manager?
The debate on Neil Lennon’s managerial abilities is often overshadowed by perceptions of his personality and the simply crazy and shameful stuff that happens around him. He’s had extreme highs and lows already in his short management career and was perhaps robbed of a little kudos for winning the title last year, but let’s not forget Celtic had overturned a 15-point deficit to lead Rangers by four points before the circus opened for business at Ibrox. He’s a tactical manager: he’s not afraid to alter formations or chop and change personnel to suit the task at hand - a far cry from the rigidity of notable predecessors O’Neill and Strachan. He doesn’t always get it right but we’ve seen enough to think that he has the potential to be a good manager. As with the team overall, he will be judged on performances in Europe.
By Christmas you’ll be …
Still in Europe … please!
Player you’d most like to sign
Since Messi’s probably not coming, let’s be realistic. Signings will depend on qualifying for the Champions League. If so, we desperately need a dependable centre half and a striker. As usual, Lennon will probably use the club’s impressive scouting system to sign someone we’ve never heard of, but of the names that have been mentioned in the press, Matt Mills and Jordan Rhodes would do.
Which player should we look out for?
If he stays, this could be a big season for Victor Wanyama. The combative midfielder saw more action than anticipated last season, resulting in plenty transfer speculation and he could become one of the most influential players in the team. Also look out for young Dylan McGeoch making an impact after his stunning debut goal last season.
Which player would you love to ditch?
Lennon has already got rid of a lot of the dead weight this summer, and there a few less ‘bombscare’ centre halves to worry about. I wouldn’t lose any sleep if Kelvin Wilson followed them out the door.
Opposition hate figure?
We’re going to need some new ones this season, though we’ll still have a few words to say should Rangers’ Lee McCulloch bully his way through Division 3.
Tell us something we don’t know about your club
Celtic’s home kit for this season, featuring more hoops than usual, is a recreation of the first ever hooped Celtic strip, brought back this year to celebrate the club’s 125th anniversary. Okay, so you probably knew that already.
What won’t happen this season?
Rangers will not win the SPL.
The chorus of “Glasgow’s green and white” from the Green Brigade, especially when led and conducted by ten year-old ‘capos’. Check it out on YouTube!
Where will you finish?
There is only one acceptable position.
Any other news?
Something happened to one of the other clubs in Glasgow that has shaken up the league a little. Can’t quite remember what it was …
Follow @johnclarke1 on Twitter
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