Amidst all the gloating in Sevconia, if you listen very carefully you can hear the sound of choking.
It is a curious thing, this ten in a row campaign. This is unlike any title race we’ve been involved in. So many aspects of it are weird, from the lack of fans in grounds to the way this transfer window has gone, in a way none of us expected with all that’s going on.
By the time this window closes I expect we’ll have our left back. If we don’t sell a key player, it will have cost us the better part of £20 million, at a time when we’re losing dough. The board is betting big in other words, big on the ten.
I never expected that either; I expected them to play it safe, but maybe in this year of years this is what playing it safe looks like.
So it appears as if we’re going for it. Nobody, at the end of this campaign, will be able to accuse the club of not doing what it could to secure this title. Celtic has sent a clear message to the rest, and most especially the team across the city.
They have spent money too, but they didn’t have the money to spent.
They weren’t sitting on a surplus of £30 million before this thing hit. They weren’t secure on the subject of Financial Fair Play. I think they need to sell at least one key player to make the sums add up. Because even with Group Stage qualification, they are going to post another loss.
But last night puts them in a strange place.
Their supporters, who believe they are somehow immune to the great wind sweeping the world, will not tolerate sales now … even as the club hierarchy realises they have to be made. Indeed, their fans will expect more signings instead, the further swelling of the wage bill, and won’t hear “excuses” for anything less.
Teams wins games via tactics.
Clubs win leagues and build dynasties based on strategies.
I have often disagreed with the Celtic strategy, but at a moment like this it’s hard not to conclude that it’s right for the most part. We were not ready for this crisis – it’s impossible to be ready for something that swells up at you from nowhere – but we were prepared for it.
That’s why, even in this worst of all possible situations, we were able to put the money on the table and buy top class players in this window, and why there may be at least one more yet to come. We may not have gotten it all right – we’re out of the Champions League after all – but it’s Group Stage football for the tenth year in a row, and we can cope with it because our squad is as good as it’s been in a while. We have the depth to get through a lot of games.
It’s how we use that depth, how we use the squad, that will count.
We were financially strong enough to sign the players needed to compete in these Groups, and we have the squad size which means we can do so whilst maintaining our challenge for the title, a challenge where we already have an advantage due to our game in hand and the 2-point lead which winning it would confer on us.
But is that really the best use of our resources?
In a battle like the one we face in this league race, the opposition can’t be allowed an inch, or any chink of light no matter how small.
It’s why I wonder if them going through to their own Group stages might not, in the end, have been the perfect result, and might yet lead to the perfect storm.
Think of the advantage it would have given them to have no fewer than nine games less than us.
As it turns out, we’re still facing as many as three when they can take nights off. But nine? That would have been a disaster. One of the advantages we have is that we have a better squad overall; nine games more than them would have negated that as a factor.
Celtic has the better players; what we’re looking for now is for their squad to undergo a punishing schedule which it isn’t built for. A schedule in which injuries mount up, the pressure grows behind the scenes to balance the books and they start dropping points at the same time.
If it all comes together it could be devastating to them.
Even if it doesn’t, those pressures will build individually.
The relative weakness of their Group means too that they have to make a show of it, which means fielding their best eleven as often as they can. If we are smart we’ll treat this competition as other sides do; as a bonus, and a place to test the fringe players and get them up to speed. The fans would understand.
This is not draughts we’re playing here, this is chess. If our manager rotates the squad for these matches we can get the material benefits of the six games and at the same time conserve for the ten in a row push. They won’t because they can’t … they need every point and every penny.
We will bank the initial monies and if we’re clever focus on the domestic stuff.
Even if we don’t, this is why we’ve added Duffy, Ajeti and Turnbull.
It’s why we’ve kept Elyounoussi, bought a £5 million keeper and why we’re going to bring in a left back as well. Klimala is six months bore settled, Soro might yet make it, last year’s signings are all bedded in and ready to go and we have one huge psychological advantage nobody expected.
We have kept the first team squad intact.
They’ve added to theirs too, but not enough … and yet far too much. On their day they are a decent side but the pressure and the workload is going to crush them.
We know we can handle it.
We know that they can’t.
In any other year we’d have been better seeing them go out.
It may just be that this is the weirdest twist in this crazy situation.
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